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Book #87: The Painted Bird

Almost every novel on the Time list is dark in some way. Some more than others, of course, but they all have that element of darkness.

None of them, though, reach the level of The Painted Bird. This novel, y’all, it’s brutal.

Imagine a 6-year-old Jewish kid, abandoned by his parents, witnessing a gauntlet of tortuous events—a young teenager’s eyeballs gouged out, a man falling into a pit of ravenous rats, a woman brutally raped to the point she dies—and that’s just the beginning.

Jerzy Kosinksi originally said The Painted Bird was a memoir but later admitted, after much criticism, that wasn’t true. That’s good, because the novel is too unbelievable to be true.

Of course, terrible things happen to people. And, of course, lots of terrible things happen to some people. So it’s not that. The problem with The Painted Bird is this kid, while his life is awful, is repeatedly a random witness to some of the most over-the-top vile things you’ll ever read about.

It’s to the point of being comical. It’s like Jerzy Kosinski had some quite of wheel of torture and he spun it when deciding what the kid would be a witness to next—a decapitated puppy, a waterboarded kitten, an a bullfrog orgy? No, none of that was in the book but it would’ve fit in just perfectly.

If you watch Game of Thrones, imagine some of the more brutal scenes—then imagine a 6 year old being witness to all of that—and you pretty much have The Painted Bird.

I don’t have a lot else to say about this novel. Kosinski is an engaging writer. Despite the extreme darkness of the material, I connected with his style. I won’t go too much into the ending, either, because spoilers and all.

But Kosinski’s writing style is the only positive thing I can say about The Painted Bird. It’s just too over-the-top dark for me to recommend—unless that’s your thing.

I’ll give The Painted Bird one tortured puppy out of five.

Other Stuff

The Opening

The Meaning: The title comes from a story in the book. A birdcatcher catches a bird then paints it multiple colors. Upon returning to flight, he’s an outcast to the other birds.

Highlights: Kosinski can write.

Lowlights: Never has one 6 year old witnessed so many over-the-top graphic events in the existence of literature or real life.

Memorable Line: “It mattered little if one was mute; people did not understand one another anyway. They collided with or charmed one another, hugged or trampled one another, but everyone knew only himself. His emotions, memory, and senses divided him from others as effectively as thick reeds screen the mainstream from the muddy bank. Like the mountain peaks around us, we looked at one another, separated by valleys, too high to stay unnoticed, too low to touch the heavens.”

Final Thoughts: Nope.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have been scared of this book my entire life, based on whispers and rumors about how graphic and morose it was. Apparently these rumors were well-founded. I will use this review as a proxy for the one I will never write and steer clear of this novel – thanks for sparing me the firsthand torture.


    July 20, 2016
  2. Erik J Segalini #

    I’m sad you slowed down on your posts here, but it is posts like this one that make me thrilled you have only slowed and not closed shop. I like the way you think and I like the way you invite us into that thought process. (Of course, it helps that I also love thinking about books, something your group of readers and you seem to share with me. In fact, I sometimes love thinking and talking about books even more than I like reading them…but that’s for my therapist to pry open, I guess).
    All that to say, thank you for creating and maintaining this site, sir. You are a joy to read.

    Liked by 3 people

    July 20, 2016
  3. Good to see you back. You’ve put yourself through so much so we do not have to – unless we want to subject ourselves to the same agonized reading, of course.


    July 20, 2016
  4. There was always something about Jerzy Kosinski that made me shy away from his books. You have affirmed that I made the right decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    July 21, 2016
  5. I appreciate your honesty when you review these books. We simply can’t like everything and we have different tastes. So your tastes come through and you’ve rated this book low. Another person might use different criteria for rating and mark it high.
    Still, I watch your blog with anticipation even if I don’t always comment – or agree with you. I suppose that’s what keeps us interesting. Cheers!


    July 23, 2016
  6. If I hadn’t read this review, I might have read the book just for the title but really more for the author’s name. I just like the way it sounds. Am about to tackle the Night Trilogy by Weisel in one of my book groups. Some members were reluctant to try based on similarities to this book, though what I’ve read about the second and third parts of the trilogy made it appear that these latter parts give the overall story at least a little bit of light. Do you know of any works by Kosinski that might might be a little lighter than The Painted Bird?


    July 23, 2016
    • Try Being There. Not dark at all. Different enough from the movie to make it a worthwhile read.


      October 11, 2016
  7. I like the way you think and also I like the means you invite us into that assumed process and I value your sincerity when you evaluate these books. We merely can not like everything as well as we have different preferences. So your tastes come through as well as you have actually ranked this book reduced. One more person could make use of various standards for rating as well as mark it high.


    October 28, 2016
  8. I am going to keep away from The Painted Bird. I read books to relax and feel good mostly, which is why I hate dark books. Whenever I read such books, I feel like my very soul has gone dark. This one is definitely not for me. I would also like to say how much I enjoyed your review, it was crisp and delivered, nothing vague. Loved it.


    November 24, 2016
  9. Hey, did you give up the blog? I enjoy reading it and am looking forward to your review of White Noise.


    January 31, 2017

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