Was Jerzy Kosinski a spy? Did he fabricate a childhood for himself in order to cash in on the Holocaust industry? Did he...



Was Jerzy Kosinski a spy? Did he fabricate a childhood for himself in order to cash in on the Holocaust industry? Did he even write his own books? Sloan (English/Univ. of Illinois, Chicago), a personal acquaintance of Kosinski's, investigates the full range of questions raised by his subject's ""enigmatic"" personality and professional activities. Culminating in his suicide in 1991, Kosinski's life as a writer and all-around sharp operator was driven by controversy, some of which he intricately plotted and carried out himself, some of which simply happened to him. A 1982 article in the Village Voice challenged the autobiographical veracity of Kosinski's most famous novel, The Painted Bird, shaking the meticulously constructed foundation of the myth that was Jerzy Kosinski. Empathetic but critical, Sloan provides a steadily fascinating account, starting with Kosinski's childhood in Poland and sorting out his sundry roles as writer, actor, photographer, Yale professor, husband, New York celebrity, polo player, jet-setter, possible CIA snitch, and internationally renowned fornicator. At the center of Sloan's reading of this complicated man is a tale of personal relationships--the unceasing search for father figures, the tendency to seek out mother-types in his permanent liaisons with women, and his obsessive and self-destructive behavior. The Freudian scheme seems a little pat. In addition, Sloan's literary judgment is not persuasive. Though Kosinski's fiction is demonstrably second-rate (and though Kosinski had so much outside assistance in producing the stuff, in some sense it isn't exactly his own work), Sloan means for us to accept his view that Kosinski ought to be thought of in a group including Camus, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. But such dubious claims make no real difference in the success of this biography. Its strength lies in the astonishing life of its subject. Kosinski may not have been much of a writer and was undoubtedly something of a charlatan, but his biographer reveals a life that reads like a wonderfully picaresque fiction.

Pub Date: March 11, 1996


Page Count: 512

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995