A Polish emigre who survived numerous horrors as a Jewish child during World War II, Jerzy Kosinski escaped the Holocaust, as well as communism, becoming a celebrated American writer of often bleak, haunting, and nightmarish works. The sardonic author of The Pained Bird, Steps, Pinball, and Being There consciously created an aura of mystery with his "autofictional" novels and flamboyant lifestyle. Kosinski's 1991 suicide, following a period of declining healthy and increasing literary criticism, shocked many of his firneds - and added to enigmatic image as a cult figure.
Passing By:Selected Essays, 1962-1991, Kosinski's post-humous book of previously published and unpublished writings, claims to answer many questions about his controversial life. Partially compiled by himself and finished by his wife and two friends, Passing By contains 51 literary essays, magazine articles, New York Times op-ed pieces, and political speeches organized in ten chapters rangigng from "Life and Art" and "Self vs. Collective" to "People, Places, and Me" and "The Sporty Self."
One of many surprising, and fascinating, chapters is titled "God &" where Kosinski reflects on his persecution as a child and his "spiritual inheritance" as a "circumcised Catholic." "I'm a missionary to only one particular life: the life within me; and I proselytize only one faith: my faith in the sanctity of life."
Given Kosinski's intimate writings about painful childhood memories and erotic adult fantasies, however, Passing By maintains a strange silence on his private life. The only direct reference to the author's suicide, for example, is on the book jacket. No defense, explanation, or context for Kosinski's decision can be found. (Kosinski does praise the great French biologist Jacques Monod, a longtime friend, for his philosophical acceptance of his terminal condition in "Death in Cannes." "Mercy killing interests me," said Monod. "Mercy living does not.")
Clearly designed to hint and allude, rather than decipher or explain, Kosinski's essays mirror his fictional style. A man who loved secrets and disguises, Kosinski retains his control of readers' perceptions with illuminating symbols and brilliant metaphors.
For better and worse, Passing By resembles Kosinski's montage-like novels of fragmented perceptions by refusing to offer a grand summation or any final judgements. Instead, readers are left with contradictory statements and tentative conclusions.
The Kosinski mystique remains.