Oral Pleasure: Kosinski as Storyteller
Polish-Jewish-American writer Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) was no stranger to controversy. His books were considered too violent, too sexual. He loved going to sex clubs of all persuasions. The Village Voice published a long piece in 1982 accusing him of plagiarism. Critics periodically complained that his most famous book, The Painted Bird, about a boy surviving the Holocaust, was not accurate, even though he explained again and again that it was a work of fiction based on his experiences. When he added that there were good and bad Poles during World War II, just as there were good and bad Americans, people complained he was denying the fact of Polish atrocities. People expected Kosinski, a Holocaust survivor himself, to support Holocaust museums and memorials; he tried to explain that they only seemed to commemorate Nazi destruction. Don’t visit Auschwitz, he argued, visit Kazimierz, forty-five minutes away, and help them restore their crumbling synagogues. Celebrate thousands of years of Jewish achievement, not the few short years of Jewish defeat. This intense collection of Kosinski’s short essays, interviews, and talks to a variety of public groups has been loosely organized into themes (on writing, on sex, on violence, etc.) but Kosinski’s voice is consistent throughout. He was proud to be Jewish and proud to be Polish. He wrote fiction, not autobiography; his novels should be read as novels, not as reportage. And yes, he loved sexuality, which he considered one of the purest celebrations of the human life force. Reading this anthology, even Kosinski’s fiercest critics will return to his novels with new understanding. Notes, photographs.