The Painted Bird

A while back, my brother was telling me about the strange career of author Jerzy Kozinski, most famous for writing “Being There.” Then Saleeby mentioned Kozinski’s book “The Painted Bird.” Then I happened to be looking at the bookshelf in the room I’m staying in and discovered a copy of “The Painted Bird.” I decided then and there that my long-held atheistic instincts were entirely wrong and there is a holy and grand force in the universe and it was ordering me to read “The Painted Bird.”

It’s a strange book. It’s about this kid (long rumored to be a stand-in for Kozinski) wandering around Eastern Europe during World War II. It’s essentially a series of vignettes, all of them quite horrible, involving torture, brutality, bizarre sex and everything else that makes books interesting to read. In my last session of reading, the kid got thrown into a big pool of feces, and then later was ordered by a farmer he was staying with to kill a rabbit. He knocks the rabbit over the head, starts skinning it, only to discover that the animal is still alive, and it starts running around the yard squealing horribly until the farmer axes it into a pile of gore. Oh, and by the way, the kid — who’s around 10 — is constantly performing cunnilingus on the farmer’s daughter who has a goiter.

That’s basically the book. An endless series of horrifying events.

But I have to say Kozinski really captures the brain of a child. This boy, always befuddled at the horrible events and tortures that befall him, tries to comprehend the kind of universe that would allow such things. First he seeks relief by using the gypsy spells is learned from some of the people that take care of him, but they don’t work. In the last couple chapters I’ve been reading, the kid tries Catholic prayer, but again to know avail (he basically gets rewarded by being thrown into the aforementioned pool of feces.) You can feel his frustration, and relate. I member when I was seven or eight, I came up with this theory that if you raised your middle finger to God, you had to apologize 20 times in order to negate the violation. Where did I come up with this? Who knows — I was a kid. Just like the protagonist in “The Painted Bird.”

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