Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Note on Holocaust Memorial Day: Jerzy Kosinski's "The Painted Bird"

Holocaust Memorial Day is soon come. For me, the consummate (an inappropriate word here, but I can think of no other) Holocaust novel is Jerzy Kosinski's "The Painted Bird," which leers at me from its lowest shelf in my study-- a copy turned up in my rabbi's office at the temple, like a bad penny, and I brought it home. It has a bit of Florida-moldy smell, not unusual for our state. I opened it at random, read a few words: the memories popped back into my brain, where they had lain latent, for all these years, back from my teenage years of poring over its hyper-porno-violent pages of peasants, rape, murder, torture, and destruction-- all directed at an innocent, dark-eyed, black-haired Jewish boy who is narrator, victim, and witness.
The novel, it turns out, is not memoir, as "author" (plagiarist, really) Kosinski would have had us believe; it is fiction. His reputation as a writer has been descending for all these years, as the grass on his grave lengthens. Here is a link why:
Still, the book remains popular: it is the blackest bit of putrefaction from the Holocaust-heap; as such, it retains a weird fascination for those seeking "information" about that time of absolute depravity, death, and denial of common humanity.
Should it be read? Should it remain part of the pantheon of Shoah Literature, along with Weisel's mighty bookshelf, the works of Weisenthal, Appelfeld, Levi, Frank, Keneally, Ka-Tzetnik, and so many others?
Yes, I suppose. But not by me; no, never again by me.
It is too frightening, too vile, too harsh and deep a look into the Heart of Darkness.