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The Painted Bird | [Jerzy Kosinski]

The Painted Bird

A harrowing story that follows the wanderings of a boy abandoned by his parents during World War II, The Painted Bird is a dark masterpiece that examines the proximity of terror and savagery to innocence and love. It is the first, and the most famous, novel by one of the most important and original writers of this century.
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Publisher's Summary

Originally published in 1965, The Painted Bird established Jerzy Kosinski as a major literary figure. Called by the Los Angeles Times "one of the most imposing novels of the decade" it was eventually translated into more than 30 languages.

A harrowing story that follows the wanderings of a boy abandoned by his parents during World War II, The Painted Bird is a dark masterpiece that examines the proximity of terror and savagery to innocence and love. It is the first, and the most famous, novel by one of the most important and original writers of this century.

©1965 Jerzy N. Kosinski (P)2010 HighBridge Company

What the Critics Say

"One of the best. . . . Written with deep sincerity and sensitivity." (Elie Wiesel, The New York Times Book Review)

"Extraordinary... literally staggering...one of the most powerful books I have ever read." (Harper’s magazine)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (77 )
5 star
 (29)
4 star
 (19)
3 star
 (10)
2 star
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1 star
 (11)
Overall
3.9 (51 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.0 (49 )
5 star
 (24)
4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Shawn Sun Valley, CA, United States 12-01-11
    Shawn Sun Valley, CA, United States 12-01-11 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A guided tour of Hell."

    This book is a harrowing experience from beginning to end, no question about it. It is an unrelentingly bleak cataloging of human cruelty. There are moments that are very hard to get through. Moments when you must stop and catch your breath before going on.

    I was utterly taken aback by several scenes in the novel, horrors that I knew at once I would never forget. Here are depictions of depravity so raw and visceral they leave the reader virtually poleaxed; stunned and gasping.

    And then, at the end, I was equally shocked by something Kosinski says in his brief afterword.

    He mentions that at a family gathering some years after the publication of his novel, family members from Eastern Europe accused him of downplaying the atrocities that occurred in their villages. Downplaying indeed.

    Be forewarned. This one is a tough listen. It is however, a remarkable novel and justifiably considered a classic not just of Holocaust literature but in the larger sense as well.

    Darkly poetic. Starkly beautiful. Mesmerizing and brutal. It is difficult to look away once the novel's melancholy spell takes hold.

    Fred Berman's narration seemed entirely appropriate to me. Lightly accented, but easily understandable. Never overdone; never distracting. All in all, a very good fit for an undeniably difficult but worthwhile listen.



    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colleen Washington, DC, USA 06-27-10
    Colleen Washington, DC, USA 06-27-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Extremely difficult"

    While I made it through this book - I did not enjoy it. I understand the author is making a point about the horrors of war on a civilian population - but the increasing depravity and horrid descriptions of the atrocities inflicted on animals, the protagonist, women, and a few men - were terrible to listen to. At the end, there is no satisfying conclusion to the story and it seemed sadistic and I felt a little dirty and disgusted at having listened to it all the way through. I would NOT recommend listening to this book. There was one scene in particular where I had to go into the bathroom and retch - it was that horrific.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer Hanover, IL, USA 05-21-10
    Jennifer Hanover, IL, USA 05-21-10 Member Since 2006
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    "Too miserable for me"

    I liked the writer's style and especially enjoyed the surrealistic moments, and the narrator was odd but perfect for the piece. However...I had to stop listening at chapter 8. The litany of cruelty to innocence is just too miserable to me. I was thinking, "OK, I get it already!" and had two thirds of the novel yet to go...really didn't need to have any more animals tortured and children abused in depressing detail to get the point. Skip to the end...

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    tom wellington, New Zealand 05-01-13
    tom wellington, New Zealand 05-01-13
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    "what a great book!"

    i read "the painted bird" when it first appeared as a pocket book around 1966 or 67, and was pretty much bowled over by it. curiously, despite the much later appearance of books like "bloodlands" by timothy snyder, which described, in gory detail, the unbelievable bloodshed that took place in that area, the "bloodlands" comprised of poland and the ukraine -- i.e., the "unnamed eastern countries" of the painted bird -- i never took kosinski's book as autobiography --- i imagined it more as a story about a "collective" character, a composite character, made up of the fates of several people that kosinski may have known or whose stories he had heard. it was, i thought, a fictional, or factive, story like günter grass's "tin drum" (based on WWII) or grimmelshausen's "simplicissimus", a story about a character lost in the terrors of the 30-year-war, of 1618-48. but also the book struck me as being on a par with those two books, which are classics in their own right, very well written, memorable. the character in TPB, a picaro, jewish, as in the very first picaresque novel i'd come across, lazarillo of "lazarillo de tormes", a spanish classic from around the time of christopher columbus -- so too, the little lazar, the little jew, in this book, wanders from one scene of horror into the next, as did the character lasik in "the stormy life of lasik roitschwantz" (1960) by ilya ehrenburg. another great book in the picaresque tradition and i'm sure one that kosinski --- an author much accused of plagiarism -- must have been familiar with -- even long before it appeared in english in 1960. the english translation of ehrenburg's masterwork is pretty poor, BTW, especially when compared to the wonderful german -- and vaguely yiddish-sounding -- translation of 1929. the point here is that kosinski's book is not without antecedent, but it appeared in the english-speaking world like a comet, out of nowhere, and certainly impressed with its blinding light. i was pleased to hear the book rendered in this un-hurried, slightly foreign-accented reading -- which could, for all intents and purposes --- be a deliberate "act", part of the voice-actor's performance --- and so, what of it? it increases the sense of verisimilitude, it improves the reading. which is totally wonderful! and yes, the book holds up remarkably well. another thing that was always obvious to me -- all the more so, when i read that roman polanski and kosinski had been friends or acquaintances at the lodz film school in poland --- was that polanski should long ago have made a movie of this book. it hasn't happened so far and may now be unlikely to happen at all. polanski did make a movie of dickens's "oliver twist", which didn't really go much anywhere beyond the level of an "illustrated classic" comic book. someday somebody may have to make that movie yet, and the more time passes while we wait for it to appear, the more the stature of the book will grow as one-of-the great-classics-of-the-20th-century-that-has-never-been-filmed, much as "the catcher in the rye" hasn't. kosinski's other great book, which i found on audible in a very calm and unaffected reading by dustin hoffman -- none less! to be sure --- is "being there", which also exists as a great movie, starring peter sellers. it just antedates the reagan presidency by a few years --- if it had appeared any later it would have been thought of as a parody or political satire. even so, it serves that purpose well, seen from today's vantage point. to wrap up the point i want to make here --- this is a great reading of a great book, and deserves all the stars it can get. i would point the listener to the shorter and very different reading of "being there" next. hoffman's reading, in its subdued, matter-of-fact voice, does the book justice, as does the sellers film, one of the great movies of the 1980s. reading, hearing and seeing just these two books should allay anybody's doubts about kosinski's true stature in american literature. "the painted bird" is a classic, and this is an excellent reading of it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maureen Portland, Australia 07-26-12
    Maureen Portland, Australia 07-26-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Chilling"

    This book shows, more than any that I have ever read, the need for good education everywhere.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darryl Cedar Rapids, IA, United States 07-08-12
    Darryl Cedar Rapids, IA, United States 07-08-12 Member Since 2005
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    "Excellent but Tough"

    I love Kosinski and hope more of his work shows up. But he is not for everyone. I think this is an excellent novel, very poetic, tragic and brutal. Much like Cormac's The Road it is very disturbing at times, but I think it is an important work that should be read more and not forgotten. Stylistically it is full of poetry and symbolism, but sections can be hard to get through. I recommend it with caution.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sherray NewYork, NY, United States 12-27-10
    Sherray NewYork, NY, United States 12-27-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Captivatingly haunting...."

    I'm somewhat of a horror buff and this book's content description caught my eye. I was not disappointed by a long shot! The narrator's voice was perfect for the subject matter and kept me riveted to the spot to hear what happened next.This guy would be a hit around a late night camp fire. I enjoyed the pull-no-punches gory scenes and the boy's tenacity for survival. A great read.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Magoolaghan San Bruno, CA United States 06-13-14
    William Magoolaghan San Bruno, CA United States 06-13-14 Member Since 2012
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    "It grips you and makes you beg for mercy"
    What did you like best about this story?

    Stark and brutal perspective of Eastern Europe during WWII


    If you could rename The Painted Bird, what would you call it?

    Cruelty, A Primer


    Any additional comments?

    A harrowing and beautifully written book. Where Vonnegut gave us the American perspective of WWII in Slaughterhouse 5, Kosinski bring us the opposite, horrifying perspective through the eyes of a Jewish child as he witnesses and deals with the madness and carnage of WWII. This novel brings to vivid life the anguish and brutality of the times more than other books, photos or movies I have read/seen...it was a difficult read, but a mesmerizing one, and I felt at several times that I couldn't read any more but at the same time couldn't put this book down. A tremendous book really, the kind that changes your perspective on political realities...and makes you thankful for the enduring peace we have enjoyed in the US, but wary of what the future could hold. A must read -- but don't blame me for the nightmares you have afterwards.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sfgirlnow 04-07-14
    sfgirlnow 04-07-14 Member Since 2013
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    "compelling story"
    What did you love best about The Painted Bird?

    The story was compelling and imagery was gripping. Although it was brutal and shocking (I often had to stop listening because it was upsetting), the inhumanity was sadly recognizable in so many situations, past and present.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    At first, I thought it to be intentional, but the pauses were misplaced and distracting. The voice was meant to be that of a boy, a suffering boy, but it didn't feel like that to me. The monotone should have been effective, but it was not. I sounded almost like someone who did not completely understand what he was reading. I really wish I had had another choice of a reader. It makes such a difference.


    Any additional comments?

    I would have returned this book after the first half of the first chapter, but it was the only reading available and I wanted to know the whole story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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