Jerzy Kosinski (Jerzy Nikodem Kosinski) Biography
(1933–91), (Jerzy Nikodem Kosinski), The Future Is Ours, Comrade, No Third Path, The Painted Bird
Polish-born American novelist, born in Lodz, Poland, educated at the University of Lodz, (Polish) State Academy of Sciences, and Columbia University. Separated from his parents at the age of six, Kosinski spent the years of the Second World War wandering through Russia and Poland, living on his wits in alien communities before being reunited with his parents in 1945. This extraordinary experience caused Kosinski to lose the power of speech for some years, which he recovered through a skiing accident in 1947. Radically at odds with the totalitarian society of post-war Poland, he managed to get himself ‘invited’ to study in the USA by a complete hoax. He became a graduate student at Columbia University in 1958, and at the New School for Social Research in 1962. His first two books were sociological studies of the fate of the individual in totalitarian societies, The Future Is Ours, Comrade (1960), and No Third Path (1962), published under the name Joseph Novak. His first novel was The Painted Bird (1965), a fictionalized account of his boyhood experiences during the German occupation of Poland and Russia; this and his next four novels, Steps (1968), Being There (1971), The Devil Tree (1973), and Cockpit (1975), form a five-novel cycle, whose common theme is that of an individual completely isolated in his social world, alienated from his own past and the contemporary culture he inhabits. Of his later novels, Blind Date (1977) and Passion Play (1979) employ the picaresque form as the one most appropriate to Kosinski's conversion to the philosophy of chance, in which the development of an individual's life as the expression of a consistent personality is abandoned in favour of the variousness of contingent experiences, each of which allows a different sense of self to develop. This preoccupation with the unreliability of a socially conceived and imposed identity also informs his novel Pinball (1982).