Kosinski's celebrated book `The Painted Bird' has been the cause of much controversy since its original publication in 1965. The story is one of the isolation and abandonment of an un-named child. The narrative, written in the first person, takes place in an unspecified Eastern European country or countries during the Second World War. Kosinski takes this combination of circumstances to tell a story of the utmost brutality and cruelty.
And this story is brutal and cruel indeed. Through the eyes of this abandoned child are portrayed events such as murder, rape, dismemberment, torture and bestiality. The child himself is repeatedly beaten, tortured, starved, tormented and thrown in a pit of excrement. Psychologically it is no surprise that his view of the world is confused and he looses his ability to speak. Kosinski backdrops these events with detailed accounts of the magic and folklore of the peasants that occupy the various areas in which the story takes place.
Politically, Kosinski has been criticised for his portrayal of the Red Army and the positive effects that Soviet philosophy has on his child hero. The book is however, I feel, more a survival chronicle of an individual who is fighting against huge odds. If the reader combines this novel with Slawomir Rawisz `The Long Walk' it will at least go some way to balance the portrayal of the Soviet Union in this period, as another individual fights for his unlikely survival.
The protagonists of both books survive however, and it is within this framework that they should ultimately be seen. The importance of stories such as these is that whilst the details are harrowing and as brutal as anything that you might have ever read, the ending is one of an ultimately uplifting nature.