Jerzy Kosinski Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jerzy Nikodem Kosinski was born Josek Lewinkopf in Lodz, Poland, on June 14, 1933. His life was as incredible as any of his novels, which are, to some degree, autobiographical. In 1939, when he was six years old, World War II began. He was Jewish, and his parents, believing he would be safer in the remote eastern provinces of Poland, paid a large sum of money to have him taken there. He reached eastern Poland, where he was immediately abandoned; his parents thought he was dead. Instead, at this very young age, he learned to live by his wits in an area where the peasants were hostile and the Nazis were in power.

The extreme experiences of that time were given artistic expression in his first novel, The Painted Bird. Kosinski survived the ordeal, and his parents found him in an orphanage at the end of the war. The stress of his experience had rendered him mute, and his irregular, wandering life had left him unfit to live normally with other people. Finally, in the care of his family, Kosinski regained his speech, and, studying with his philologist father, he completed his entire basic formal education in a year and entered the University of Lodz, where he eventually earned advanced degrees in history and political science.

By that time, Poland was an Iron Curtain country with a collectivized society. Kosinski, after his youthful years of lone wandering, had developed a fierce independence and could not endure communal life in which the individual was under scrutiny at every step. He knew he could not remain without getting into serious trouble with the government, so he put together an elaborate scheme to escape. Making the cumbersome bureaucracy work in his favor, Kosinski invented a series of sponsors, all highly regarded scientists according to the documents he forged for them, to write him letters of recommendation, which eventually enabled him to get a passport to study in the United States.

Kosinski arrived in New York on December 20, 1957, twenty-four years old, with $2.80 in his pocket and a good textbook knowledge of English, though little experience in speaking the language. He lived any way he could, stealing food when necessary and studying English. By March, he was fluent in the language, and within...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111207094-Kosinski.jpg Jerzy Kosinski. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Jerzy Kosinski achieved immediate success with his first novel, The Painted Bird, which Kosinski claimed was an autobiographical account of his childhood experiences during the German occupation of Poland. The author spent the rest of his life defending those experiences, and the autobiographical content of his other books, against his critics and supporters.

There are two central questions raised by Kosinski’s work. First, were his novels merely records of his extraordinary life—and his life was without question extraordinary—as many have claimed, or are the novels a creative refashioning of his experience? Kosinski experienced enormous popularity as a novelist; his books sold in the tens of millions of copies. As one critic has noted: Can a writer who pandered to the crassest commercial standards of popular fiction by employing graphic sex and violence, conventional fictional types, and sensational contemporary events really have anything seriously significant to say to his readers? The search for answers to such questions has dominated the writing about Kosinski’s life and art.

There is no question that Kosinski’s life had a profound effect on his writing. The search for identity, with all that implies, is the primary focus of his fiction and began with his own quest occasioned by his profoundly unsettling experiences as a child. Most of his protagonists try on a series of personas, creating roles with which to attempt to cope with the perplexity of contemporary life. The most obvious of these is Chance, the central character in Being There, whose whole life is formed by his television watching. Chance is not unique in reflecting Kosinski’s fascination with popular culture and its effect in determining identity.

The implications Kosinski pursued regarding personality-shaping events make him, along with Albert Camus, one of the primary writers to deal with important postwar existentialist questions. His search for personal definition in a hostile and alienating world earned for him a prominent place among writers of the late twentieth century.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Novelist and sociologist Jerzy Nikodem Kosinski (kuhh-ZIHN-skee) was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1933. His father was a well-to-do philologist and a scholar of languages at the University of Lodz, and his mother was an accomplished pianist. With the radical disruption of the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939, Kosinski was separated from his Jewish parents and spent the next six years wandering about eastern Poland and living by his wits. He was finally reunited with them in 1945, but the traumatized boy had become a mute as a result of the harsh experiences of surviving on his own. Not until after a skiing accident in 1948 did he regain his speech, finish high school, and finally enter the University of Lodz in 1950. This wartime...

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(Novels for Students)

Jerzy Kosinksi Published by Gale Cengage

When referring to his novel The Painted Bird in an "Afterword" published in its second edition, Jerzy Kosinski insists that he...

(The entire section is 476 words.)