Jerzy Kosinski’s first novel, The Painted Bird, (1965) remains one of the most controversial works of Holocaust fiction ever published. A dystopic coming-of-age story set on a Bosch-like backdrop of war-torn eastern Europe, the novel is loosely based off Kosinski’s experiences during World War II, when he and his family hid from the Nazis in rural Poland. (Sloan, 7-54) The nameless protagonist – known only as the boy – passes from village to village as an unwanted outsider, often abused and barely surviving. For six years, “the boy's life is an unmitigated series of horrors and atrocities, which though episodic in nature, disclose a sort of patterned movement through various forms of moral and physical evil [. . .] Gradually the child loses all vestiges of civility, of his middle-class nurture, and [by] the end of the war; he has become a creature unfit for a civilized society.” (Meszaros, 232) The novel details the creation of a hellish microcosm of war, enclosed within the victimized boy. Kosinski’s declared intent, to “represent the essential anti-human condition” of war and genocide (xii) is successful in forging a child into a warborn creature of chaos.
Conner, Malcolm, "The Anti-Human Condition: Violence, Identity, and Coming-of-Age in The Painted Bird" (2017). Undergraduate Student Research Awards. 35.
Winner of a $100 prize
Course: ENGL 4427, Literature of the Holocaust