Kosinski, Jerzy

Tagged: Author

(1933-1991) Polish author born Josek Lewinkopf – his father gave him the name Jerzy Kosinski to avoid Nazi Jew-hunts – whose experiences as a child in World War Two inspired in his first novel, The Painted Bird (1965; rev 1976), though this hallucinated picaresque – set in the surrealistic landscape of war-devastated Poland, and whose child protagonist is driven mute by his experiences – does not directly reflect Kosinski's actual life as a child, nor does a close reading support a literalist reading (see Holocaust Fiction). After publishing two nonfiction books in Poland in 1955, Kosinski moved to the USA in 1957, and wrote all his subsequent work in English, including some nonfiction as by Joseph Novak.

From Steps (1968) on, most of Kosinski's novels could be described as mosaics of deracination (see Fabulation), and tales like Cockpit (1975) displace these chips of reality in an sf direction. His nearest approach to sf proper, Being There (1970), treats the US political system as one from which any meaning has been evacuated; its vacant-minded protagonist, named Chance, reflects through his media-shaped emptiness the desires and delusions of the world, while at the same time being selected to run for high office; it was filmed as Being There (1979). Kosinski's later years were not happy. His lack of clarity about the fictional nature of The Painted Bird cost him dearly after 1980. Illness, accusations that he had made excessive and unacknowledged use of helpers' work – F Gwynplaine MacIntyre, for instance, though never a reliable source about his own activities, claimed to have ghost-written part of a version of Pinball (1984), giving one of the characters his own middle name – and highly charged examinations of the background behind the childhood experiences Kosinski seemed to have claimed to have suffered, and (it may be) the fatalism that has often afflicted survivors of the Holocaust, attended him. He committed suicide. [JC]

See also: Absurdist SF.

Jerzy Nikodem Kosinski

born Lódz, Poland: 14 June 1933

died New York: 3 May 1991

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