Title: The Painted Bird
Author: Jerzy Kosinski
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction
Content Warnings: Graphic violence, graphic rape, animal cruelty, abuse towards women and minors, racism, pedophilia, anti-Semiticism, depictions of war.
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for The Painted Bird.
Synopsis: A harrowing story that follows the wanderings of a boy abandoned by his parents during World War II, The Painted Bird is a dark novel that examines the proximity of terror and savagery to innocence and love.
Words cannot accurately depict the visceral disgust that I feel towards this book.
I don’t even know why I picked up this book from my local library. I believe I was on a horror-kick or something with my reading list, and I was recommended this book online. I am so glad that I only checked out this book instead of wasting the money I would have spent to purchase it.
The problem with this book is not so much the subject that is being written about; historical fiction holds truths about events and eras within our history that are important to keep alive in our works. There is no question in my mind that World War II brought forth some of the most atrocious accounts of violence and human depravity in our world’s history.
However, where I have issue with this book is the wildly grotesque depictions of violence that the narrator, an unnamed child, experiences and witnessed throughout the course of the novel for seemingly no reason. There is also not one sympathetic character in the entirety of the book that the narrator meets. Every other page or so, this boy is being either cruelly assaulted or watching someone else be graphically beaten up and/or raped. Kosinski truly went beyond just saying that World War II brought out the perversion of humans: Kosinski actively tried to show us by attempting to bring this perversion to life through the illustration of words. He painted out some of the most horrific images in his scenes, images so vile that they made me feel physically ill at times.
Additionally, there was criticism about Kosinski passing off this book as an autobiographical story, or at the very least not denying that this was not a true story based on his own experiences. The fact that Kosinski profited off the events of the Holocaust and World War II by trying to pass this novel off, with everything contained within, as something that happened to him is repulsive.
This book was very nearly added to my DNF list, but to give Kosinski’s writing a fair chance, I read through until the end. I can now say that I would never recommend this novel to anyone, and am incredibly glad that I didn’t spend any of my own money on this book.