Feb 22, 2013

The Painted Bird

by Jerzy Kosinski     
~  there will be spoilers in this post  ~
In the horror of WWII a young boy separated from his parents, wanders around through the Polish villages of Eastern Europe. He is most often ignored or abused by the people he comes in contact with, as the fair-haired peasants are suspicious of his dark hair and eyes. The boy witnesses and suffers all kinds of tortures and abuses, the least of which was being beaten. Quite a few of the images stand out vividly in my mind, even after all these years. Not pretty ones. A man in a fight gouging out the eyes of another with a spoon. Rape, incest and bestiality. Lots of people- mere children and infants as often as not- and animals- die in horrible, horrible ways. The boy is often hungry and in pain. It is not until the very end of the book that he is reunited with his parents, but he is irreversibly affected by what he has seen and experienced.

The most vivid image of course, is where the title comes from. The boy watched a man catch birds, paint their feathers bright colors and release them again. The painted bird would find its flock and be attacked by the other birds because of its strange, unrecognizable appearance.

I was reminded of this book from this post at Kyusi Reader. It was one I picked up once at curiosity, from the title alone. I'm surprised that I actually finished it, because I found the content so utterly disturbing. I'm certainly never going to read it again. I don't need those kinds of things in my head.


  1. I've heard good things about this book, but it does sound very disturbing!

  2. Wow, I am very much not going to read this at all, ever. I have very low tolerance for rape and incest (hopefully not both at once?).

  3. Anna- It is good writing, I remember some descriptions quite vividly, like one of a child carrying a lantern made from a tin can with holes punched in the sides, very well. But overall too horrific to stomach, at least here.

    Jenny- Probably both at once at some point in the novel, although I don't remember specifically right now (and don't care to).


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