powrót do D a s k o g r a f i i 

Kosiński's Afterlife

by Henry Dasko
A Jew or Not A Jew? 
On Plagiarism 
Who Wrote The Painted Bird? 
On Sex And High Society 
A Literary Oeuvre Or A Sham? 
The Dark Side 

Even before his suicide on May 3, 1991, Jerzy Kosiński had been the subject of a great many journalistic and critical pieces. His death triggered a veritable avalanche of newspaper and magazine coverage that recapped his life and career and offered the inevitable speculations as to the cause of his final step, and over the next several years, Kosiński's life and work continued to attract significant attention. In Poland, the University of Łódź, his alma mater, organized an academic conference on the topic of "Jerzy Kosiński: Man and Work at the Crossroads of Cultures"; a local museum in the town of Warka created a Kosiński exhibition which traveled to several cities; a theater in Nowe Tychy commissioned and staged an adaptation of Being There; and the writer Joanna Siedlecka wrote Czarny ptasior (1994), a documentary book tracing the wartime fate of Kosiński's family.

In the United States, New York's Vineyard Theater staged Davey Holmes's biodrama More Lies About Jerzy, and author and critic Tom Teicholz published Conversations with Jerzy Kosiński[1]. But the most important work about Kosiński, an indispensable source of information about his extraordinary life and career, was James Park Sloan's Jerzy Kosiński[2], a comprehensive and extensively researched biography which first appeared in 1996.

Sloan, a novelist and professor in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago who knew Kosiński for twenty years, described himself as "someone with whom Kosiński was as close as it was possible in his case."[3] He had written previously about the celebrated author: in the summer of 1971, only a few years out of college, Sloan published an enthusiastic review of Being There[4], in which he had called The Painted Bird "probably the finest novel to emerge from World War II" and described Kosiński as "one of the central artists of our time." A few years later, in a polemic with a critic who skewered The Devil Tree, Sloan placed Kosiński, by then a personal friend, in the same constellation as Kafka and Dostoyevsky, while referring to Norman Mailer and John Updike as "puff ephemeral non-novelists."[5] When Kosiński died, Sloan weighed in with a thoughtful, compassionate, and moving piece, remembering his idiosyncrasies, weaknesses, occasional triumphs, and bitter defeats. Among the many eulogies to Jerzy Kosiński, Sloan's may have been the most personal one, a farewell letter from a writer mourning the untimely passing of a comrade-in-arms[6].

Kosiński's reputation and literary standing never recovered from the setback he suffered in the summer of 1982 as a result of a front-page article in The Village Voice which accused him of illegitimately using literary helpers and translators, employing CIA assistance to publish his "Joseph Novak" books, and falsifying his biography through the tales and confabulations he routinely and habitually told, including his oft-repeated claim that the story of the Boy in The Painted Bird reflected his own wartime experiences[7]. Setting out to prove or disprove all that and more, Sloan traveled to Poland and Russia and conducted broad documentary research, including over one hundred interviews in the United States. Despite that, Sloan's final product leaves doubts in several important areas as to the conclusions he drew, the accuracy and fairness of his opinions, and the methodology he employed. In some cases, Sloan appears to have disregarded or misunderstood important contexts; in others, he offers arguments which do not pass scrutiny. There are also grounds to believe that Sloan skewed some of his documentation to substantiate the conclusions he formulated a priori and disregarded information which could shed different light on certain events in Kosiński's life or, for that matter, on Kosiński's complex identity.

A Jew or Not A Jew?

No question can be more important or difficult to answer for Kosiński's biographer than the problem of his own identity. Who was Kosiński: a Pole? a Jew? an American? All-or none-of the above? During his early years in America, Kosiński had been known to deny his Jewish origin or, at least, to treat the subject with ambiguity. Sloan, who rightly attributes the denials to his wartime experience, nevertheless felt that Kosiński "used his status as a victim in whatever manner seemed convenient at the moment."[8] This is, at best, an incomplete and inaccurate view.

Many of Kosiński's early acquaintances were indeed unaware of his Jewish origins. The Polish-Jewish novelist Henryk Grynberg, who met Kosiński in 1967, left his apartment uncertain of his host's ethnicity. Canadian writer and filmmaker Jack Kuper, author of the memoir Child of the Holocaust, was told by Kosiński in the late 1960s that he was "a Jew born of Christian parents."[9] Others thought he might be a Gypsy; a few even suspected him of being an anti-Semite. Mira Michałowska, a writer and the wife of the Polish ambassador to the United Nations, who knew Kosiński well in his early New York years, was convinced that he "was decidedly not Jewish."[10] This repeated denial of the past, says Sloan, created "a hollow space at the center of Kosiński."[11] Neither Pole nor Jew, not quite American, Kosiński lacked roots to anchor him in a specific identity. Instead, like the characters in his novels, he became an opportunistic itinerant who rode under whatever flag suited his mercenary purpose. "Why," one of Jack Kuper's friends asked Kosiński, "not admit that you are a Jew?"[12]

Indeed, why not? But that same question could be asked of many, if not most, assimilated Polish Jews of Kosiński's —and subsequent— generations. In post-World War II Poland, obfuscation, ambiguity, and outright denial of Jewish origin became prevalent among the polonized intelligentsia of Jewish extraction, particularly among those who survived the war in hiding. As Sloan correctly notes, during the war Kosiński was told "on pain of death that he was not, and must not ever be, a Jew."[13] But the postwar years in Poland also created their own context of denial-different, devoid of physical threat, but nevertheless powerful and insidious. Among the assimilated, urbane, polonized Jews, concealment of their origin became the norm rather than the exception.

For many, the word "Jew" ceased to exist. According to the writer Tadeusz Konwicki:

"The problem of Jews, so painful and tumescent before the war, no longer existed, or rather ceased to exist... There are no Jews, and there are no problems associated with them. The survivors adopted Polish names, others were forced to adopt them.... Those in power made sure that Jewish topics did not take over the newly reborn literature. It wasn't that Jews could not be written about, but rather that one should not create a problem out of it and recycle a subject, which history itself had already solved."[14]

Konwicki wrote those words in remembrance of his friend, the writer Leopold Tyrmand, whose own story illustrates the issue well. Tyrmand, a Polish Jew born to a relatively assimilated family, had spent the war in hiding — in his case, in Germany. After the war, in Poland, Tyrmand, like many others, made a conscious decision to abandon the painful past. Although commonly recognized as a Jew, he converted to Catholicism and openly denied his origins, pondering in his Dziennik 1954 the supposedly Scandinavian etymology of his last name. It was only after he left Poland in the mid-1960s and emigrated to the United States that Tyrmand gradually reverted to his original ethnicity.

For those who stayed in Poland, this concealment of Jewishness was a typical path. Like most Soviet satellites, communist Poland was structured as a nation-state, where overt belonging to an ethnic minority was a sign of social and political marginalization. Thus, children of Polish Jews born after the war often grew up unaware of their parents' origin; family past became obliterated, wartime experiences concealed or couched in universal, non-Jewish terms. During the anti-Semitic purges of 1968 initiated by the Communist Party, many suddenly discovered that some of their close, fully polonized friends were Jewish. Among innumerable personal tragedies of that dark period, some were forced to learn that about their own spouses or parents.

For those Polish-Jewish intellectuals whose true home was the Polish culture, Jewish heritage became particularly difficult. With relatively few exceptions, the subject was considered unimportant in the first postwar decades; when asked directly about the faith of their parents, many either skirted the issue or denied it outright. People commonly known to have been born Jewish continued to hide — themselves, their relatives in Israel, even family graves at Jewish cemeteries. Such was the environment in which Jerzy Kosiński grew up.

It was only after the fall of communism that Poland's Jewish intelligentsia were finally able to come to terms with their origins; several writers, among them Józef Hen and Henryk Vogler, wrote about their Jewish childhoods. For others, the lifelong discomfort remained. Indeed, until the end of his life Jerzy Kosiński was unaware that the Polish writer Mira Michałowska, who had helped him during his early New York days and who had assured others that he was not a Jew, was herself born Miriam Zandel to a Jewish family in Łódź.

Sloan is either unaware of the postwar context, or omits all such information and allows only for the lingering effects of wartime dangers. While clearly the key factor in the inner pressures of denial, it was far from the only one. Jewish survivors who left Poland for the West shortly after the war generally reconciled their Jewish identity, and cases of denial were uncommon. The war, with its clear divisions between right and wrong, between the beginning and the end, could, at least outwardly, be put behind.

In Poland, survivors had to behave differently. It was their unique, silent postwar experience which further complicated the issues of Jewish identity and moved them deeper into the shadowlands, although the time of ovens and hiding had ended and victory had officially been declared. Public life in Poland offered many joyful occasions when Polish Jews were free to celebrate their Polish component; yet, their Jewish side could hardly be acknowledged. Between 1948 and 1955, during Kosiński's formative years, Jewish topics —indeed, the very word "Jew"— were almost completely eradicated from public dialogue, literature, and film in Poland.

Stripped of the postwar dimension, Kosiński's "Jewish-non Jewish" declarations in America might indeed signify a "hollow space" inside. In reality, just the opposite was true. Gradual changes in Kosiński's self-definition, his acceptance of the Polish-Jewish context as the defining aspect of his life, accurately parallel the development of Jewish self-awareness among his generation in Poland and abroad.

On Plagiarism

Apart from Jerzy Kosiński, the most important character woven into the fabric of Sloan's biography is a product of another writer's imagination, a fictional character named Nikodem Dyzma. Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy (1932), the immensely popular novel by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz which brought Dyzma to life, is often considered the finest Polish political satire of the twentieth century; over the years, Dyzma reappeared in several film and stage adaptations and continues to rank as one of Poland's best known literary protagonists, with a firm and unique place in Polish mass culture and with reach and recognition across a range of social strata. Sloan considers Dyzma a key component of Kosiński's life and work and places him in multiple contexts.

First, there is the issue of Being There. It is indisputable that the plot of Kosiński's most popular novel, adapted to the screen by Hal Ashby and starring Peter Sellers, has certain similarities to Dołęga-Mostowicz's book. Although cognizant of differences in the setting and the divergent qualities of the main characters, Sloan believes that Kosiński's third novel skirted dangerously close to plagiarism. He writes: "In its protagonist, its structure, its specific events, and its conclusion," Being There "bore an extraordinarily close resemblance"[15] to Dołęga-Mostowicz's bestseller. Had the Polish author been alive, Sloan asserts, the case could have very well ended up in courts.

Second, there is Kosiński himself. Here, the biographer leaves no room for ambiguity. According to Sloan, from the day that Kosiński, then in high school, read Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy, he adopted the novel as his personal blueprint for the future, rigorously adhering to the template decade after decade. In his life as well as in his academic and creative endeavors, Kosiński followed that scheme as "a model and a strategy for getting along and getting ahead in the world."[16] Thus Dyzma, as a "fictive blueprint for life", accompanies Kosiński in Sloan's biography in his early American years, on the occasion of his marriage to Mary Weir, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In his summation, Sloan spells it out clearly: "He [Kosiński] patterned his life on the game plan contained in The Career of Nikodem Dyzma, a second-rate Polish bestseller about a con artist."[17]

The Polish novel is so important to the biographer's vision that he offers readers a page-long summary of the book's plot. That, however, is as far as Kosiński's literary antecedents go. Although in 1975 Sloan grandly viewed Kosiński as a direct descendant of Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Kafka, and Mann, no other novel and no other writer beside Dołęga-Mostowicz rate mention in his biography as having any influence on, or relationship to, Kosiński's life and work.

Like any biographer, Sloan is entitled to form an opinion of his protagonist, and it need not be positive. But the art and science of biography follow a simple and irreducible rule: a life's account must disclose all that is relevant and must attempt to present it in a fair and reasonable light. It is therefore reasonable to expect that before laying a charge of borderline plagiarism, Sloan must have examined condemning as well as mitigating arguments and carefully weighed similarities and differences. Although he refers to Barbara Tepa's pioneering work on Polish contexts in Kosiński's novels, there is no indication that Sloan himself had ever put the two books side by side to formulate his own viewpoint.

James Park Sloan neither speaks nor reads Polish. While available in Uzbek, Lithuanian, and Hungarian, Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy has never been translated into English[18]. In any case, Sloan's bibliography mentions no translations and lists only the émigré edition by Roy, published in 1950, in Polish, in New York. It is a book he could not and did not read.

Although in the "Acknowledgments" section of his book Sloan tacitly confirms his lack of Polish, he does not address the specific issue of his familiarity with Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy. The implication is that he has read the novel. That is obviously not the case. Moreover, based on Sloan's narrative, it seems that the principal source of his information about Dołęga-Mostowicz and his novel was Jerzy Kosiński's high school friend, Stanisław Pomorski. Sloan has little to say about Pomorski beyond a restrained comment that he is "no intellectual,"[19] but a couple minor insights within the biography shed more light on him.

To begin with, there is the issue of Pomorski's dog, which died of cancer. Pomorski felt it was Kosiński who gave the animal the disease by "pinching it around the eyes whenever he saw it."[20] Pomorski also had an explanation for his former friend's incessant womanizing, which was already apparent in his adolescent years: it was a dwarfish Polish hairdresser, equipped by nature with a monstrous-size penis, who gave Kosiński a life-long inferiority complex[21], and made him "cultivate sexual stamina as a compensation for a feeling of inferior endowment."[22]

If, as Sloan indicates, Stanisław Pomorski was his main source of information on Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy, then numerous related errors and misinterpretations in Sloan's book become less surprising. The description of Dołęga-Mostowicz's novel as a "brukowiec", or a trash novel, is patently false;[23] the short plot summary of Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy contains several mistakes;[24] the book's synopsis, describing the story as a "playful turn on a very basic plot: a young man from the provinces, of no particular background, makes it to the top with the help of sympathetic women,"[25] is at once reductionist and inaccurate. Most importantly, any analogy between Jerzy Kosiński and Nikodem Dyzma is so far off the mark as to make it outright absurd.

Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy is an incisive political satire, directed at the ruling elite in post-1926 Poland, whom Dołęga Mostowicz viewed as immoral and corrupt. To better make his point, he equipped his protagonist with an almost grotesque set of negative characteristics: Dyzma is not just a simpleton from the provinces but a vulgar, inarticulate, murderous thug, with no intelligence beyond basic animal cunning, no social graces, and no ambition other than the biological desire to survive in a hostile universe. His striking progress is not the effect of his own, planned actions but rather the result of general moral turpitude, where unequivocally base individuals have the best chance to succeed.

No matter how one judges Kosiński's artful social manipulations and his relentless drive to the top, they were always conscious actions, with full involvement of his intellectual and artistic talents and his extraordinary, vibrant personality. There was nothing passive about Kosiński; he pushed forward with great skill, occasionally too great for his own good. Far from being controlled by circumstances, he incessantly strove to create his own contexts. Beyond the astonishing success of both characters, there simply are no rational points of commonality between the story of Jerzy Kosiński and the crude oaf Dołęga-Mostowicz created.

The issue of purported plagiarism is more complex and has generated interest among literary scholars. Two scholars —Barbara Tepa Lupack[26] in the U.S. and Piotr Śliwiński[27] in Poland— have produced academic work in which they examined parallels between Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy and Being There. Tepa Lupack's work focused on similarities between the two novels, Śliwiński's on dissimilarities. Neither suggested or implied that Kosiński's work could be seen as plagiarism of Dołęga-Mostowicz's novel.

Remarkably, Sloan's misrepresentations surrounding Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy do not end here. On two occasions, he brings up the Polish novel in the context of the 1982 article in The Village Voice, claiming that its authors, Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont-Smith, "explored the question of Nikodem Dyzma" and concluded Being There invited "the charges of plagiarism."[28]

Stokes and Fremont-Smith, neither one a Polish speaker, could not "explore" a book they were unable to read. There are no references to Nikodem Dyzma in The Village Voice article and no references to plagiarism; nor are Sloan's errors limited to this instance[29]. Thus, the very precept of Dyzma as a role model, which is the central argument of Sloan's biography and the cornerstone of the psychological profile he built for Kosiński, has been constructed in its entirety from inaccurate and secondhand conjecture, based on a background story Sloan had not read.

Who Wrote The Painted Bird?

Over the years, Kosiński faced increasing challenges to his authorship of The Painted Bird as well as questions about the language in which the novel was written. Sloan lists and examines those challenges in some detail: in Poland, journalist Wiesław Górnicki wrote that The Painted Bird was authored by Peter Skinner; a few years later, American literary scholar Jerome Klinkowitz was told in Warsaw that Kosiński plagiarized Polish sociological works. In the United States, Polish journalist and translator Aleksander Jordan Lutosławski claimed to have translated the entire novel; British-American poet and essayist George Reavey claimed to have written it. In New York, a woman named Halina Bastianello answered an advertisement seeking a translator, but subsequently rejected Kosiński's offer of anonymous work; Steven Kraus remembered responding to the same ad and actually translating a sample, but could not identify his work in the published volume.

The issue of the language in which the original of the book was created is certainly of interest, but ultimately not of great significance to the novel itself. The questions of authorship carry much broader implications. Górnicki's allegations, like the claims made to Klinkowitz during his visit to Poland, were largely unsubstantiated; but George Reavey's assertion calls for closer examination, since he claimed to have had major creative input into the novel as someone akin to a ghostwriter. Sloan accepts these allegations more or less at face value, noting that "several editors and translators participated as ‘consultants’"[30] on the text. Referring to Reavey and Jordan Lutosławski, Sloan writes that their stories are "credible in their broad outline."[31]

Closer analysis puts this conclusion in doubt, although given the passage of time and Kosiński's quest for secrecy, it is unlikely the full story can be accurately reconstructed. Yet enough information exists to shed more light on The Painted Bird and the way in which the novel was created.

Aleksander Jordan Lutosławski did not come forward until after Kosiński's death[32]. He explained that he had been bound by the professional sense of ethics incumbent upon a translator who agreed to remain anonymous. An independent witness —Edward Dusza, a Polish poet and journalist, who was friendly with Lutosławski in the 1960s and who also knew Kosiński[33]— corroborated that Lutosławski had, in fact, done translation work for Kosiński. However, Dusza was convinced that the manuscript, which he vividly remembered seeing in Lutosławski's apartment, was not The Painted Bird but rather The Future is Ours, Comrade. In all probability, Dusza was incorrect — according to Sloan, it was not Jordan Lutosławski but Ewa Markowska who worked on the translation of Kosiński's first book.

Was Jordan Lutosławski the author of the English version of The Painted Bird? There are strong indications that he was not. Peter Skinner, who worked with Kosiński editing that novel, emphasized to Sloan the roughness of the manuscript, "unidiomatic usages that suggested to him that the text might have been translated, or generated with the use of dictionaries."[34] However, Lutosławski was an experienced, competent professional, fully at home in both languages. By his own account[35], he had been publishing in English since 1937, and during World War II had worked for the British Ministry of War, producing English copy for propaganda brochures. He had written books and articles in English and had translated important Polish writers, including Ksawery Pruszyński and Paweł Jasienica. It seems highly unlikely that he would have created a text contaminated with faulty idioms or inaccurately rendered words like "furrow" as "epiphany."

Moreover, Lutosławski insisted the novel's final title was in place at the time he received the manuscript. There is evidence this was not the case. The book's working title was Beneath This Sacred Armor, which Sloan, who shared a publisher with Kosiński, cited in his 1991 piece on Kosiński as the novel's "original title." Kosiński's widow recalls that the title was changed to The Painted Bird at the suggestion of Houghton Mifflin's editor, Dorothy de Santillana.

In the summer of 1991, Jordan Lutosławski was already nearing the final stage of his life. His recall was less than perfect; interviewed shortly after his piece appeared in Przegląd Polski, he claimed to have been the translator of Leopold Tyrmand's American Diaries[36]. While not directly connected, the issue is relevant, since it relates to approximately the same time period and concerns another Polish-born author who began publishing in English less than two years after his arrival in America.

Tyrmand came to the United States with an unshakeable commitment to become an American writer and, from the very beginning, attempted to write in English. Tyrmand's archive, deposited by his widow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, contains his original notebooks from his early period in the U.S., including the material subsequently used in American Diaries, most of it written in English. His early work was obviously rough; Beverly de Luscia, an editor at Time and Tyrmand's companion during that period, provided extensive editorial help. Jordan Lutosławski may have had involvement in some fragments, but there is no record or indication that he did, in fact, translate "American Diaries" in the generally accepted meaning of the word.

Peter Skinner's recollections of a foreign thumbprint also refute George Reavey's claims that he was the one who "wrote The Painted Bird," as related to Sloan by the novelist Thomas Fleming. It is improbable that Reavey, a poet and writer whose wordsmanship was admired by Samuel Beckett, would turn out anything but a linguistically unflawed manuscript that required at most minor editorial work.

A further puzzling detail in the Reavey story is his comment that the manuscript Kosiński gave him was "part English, part Polish, and part Russian."[37] Apart from this statement, there is no indication that Kosiński ever wrote anything in Russian, although he read Russian well and was reasonably comfortable speaking it. Like all schoolchildren in postwar Poland, Kosiński had learned Russian at school, where it was a compulsory part of the curriculum. Later, at the university, he made at least two trips to the Soviet Union and worked on Russian texts as part of his academic research. However, none of that approaches the level of linguistic skill, fluency, and intuitive familiarity required of a writer of literary prose. Why, in writing his book in America for an American public, would Kosiński seek to further compound his difficulties by shifting into another foreign language? It seems that either Reavey's story has been related inaccurately, or the material he received from Kosiński was not The Painted Bird.

Furthermore, for any prose translation from the Polish, George Reavey would have been a questionable choice. Born in Vitebsk, where his father managed a flax mill, he spoke Russian like a native and for several years was a British diplomat in Moscow. His record of translations from the Russian is outstanding and includes poetry by Yesenin, Pasternak, Biely, Yevtushenko, and others. However, there is no indication at all that Reavey ever studied Polish. Available information puts his name on only two Polish poems, both sonnets by Adam Mickiewicz and both previously translated into Russian. There is no record of Reavey ever translating any prose from the Polish.

George Reavey died in 1976, six years before The Village Voice article first challenged Kosiński's unencumbered authorship of The Painted Bird. In all likelihood, he had little or nothing to do with the novel. The manuscript he most probably edited and translated was No Third Path, a "Joseph Novak" nonfiction book on Russia, largely composed from academic materials Kosiński acquired while working on his doctorate in sociology and published three years before The Painted Bird.

There are other questions involving the chain of events leading to the publication of The Painted Bird. On March 7, 1964, The Saturday Review ran an advertisement seeking a translator for full-length fiction from Polish to English. That was the ad to which Bastianello and Kraus responded; both of them subsequently heard from Kosiński, and Kraus actually received a piece of the novel by mail. But The Village Voice reporters determined that the complete manuscript of The Painted Bird was submitted to Farrar, Straus & Giroux less than two months after the ad appeared. Is it possible that within that time a 75,000-word novel was translated by someone whose English, as Skinner's observations indicate, was rather imperfect? Not likely. Like Steven Kraus, Jordan Lutosławski may have worked on a fragment of the manuscript, but his claim to have translated the entire novel appears a substantial exaggeration.

Finally and most significantly, there is the testimony of Peter Skinner, who over the years has offered many articulate and thoughtful comments and vivid details about his work with Kosiński. Skinner, whose recall is excellent, was Kosiński's private editor on The Painted Bird, Steps, and, to a lesser degree, Cockpit. He remains a uniquely informed and credible witness of Kosiński's creative process. Describing his early experiences on The Painted Bird, Skinner said that "Kosiński moved through the text with dexterity, speed and familiarity which could only be that of the author."[38] Offered by a person whose own creative talents made an important contribution to three Kosiński's novels, these words have to be respected as having a special gravity, beyond the weight of other assertions or allegations.

What, then, to make of the conflicting claims and contradictory statements? It is likely that the English text of The Painted Bird, far from smooth and in need of considerable editorial work, was mostly Kosiński's own. Yet, there is little doubt that Kosiński looked for a translator, which suggests that a Polish version of the book, possibly an older or a parallel one, may have existed. Like almost all those who acquire a foreign language outside the childhood experience, Kosiński, no matter how sparkling his verbal pyrotechnics, would never feel entirely secure laying words down on paper in English. His constant shuffling of editors and his obsessive rewrites, attested to by all his publishers, were an elusive, impossible search for the perfect expression, the natural, instinctive idiom.

It was a longing common to all those who write in a language acquired after the meanings of words have already been shaped by the tool of past experiences. Fighting those fears and insecurities, Leopold Tyrmand, whose brilliant, exuberant Polish prose exploded with life, weighted his American writings with arcane, less-than-natural expressions and sought to build for himself a lexicon distanced from the threatening vernacular of everyday life. Even Vladimir Nabokov, whose peerless English was learned early in life, lamented the loss of his "untrammeled, rich and infinitely docile Russian tongue."[39] Like others who have changed their mother tongue, Kosiński too must have felt that pain.

In any case, time has vindicated Kosiński. The usage of private editors by writers is now a common practice[40], which only occasionally erupts in controversy, as with the award-winning Canadian writer Nega Mezlekia and his editor Anne Stone[41] Although the extent of editorial work varies greatly, Kosiński's case does not seem to have been an aberration: Canadian publishing critic Alex Good estimated that "50% of Canadian non-fiction is significantly rewritten."[42] In fiction, the editor Gordon Lish is known to have substantially reworked Raymond Carver's manuscripts, cutting as much as 70% of Carver's words and rewriting ten of thirteen endings in one short story collection alone. "There are countless cuts and additions to the pages; entire paragraphs have been added. Lish's black felt-tip markings sometimes obliterate the original text,"[43]. observed the cultural journalist D. T. Max, who examined Lish's archives. Louis Begley and Michael Korda also wrote about the extensive editorial assistance provided by publishers to authors in order to generate publishable manuscripts.

In the deepest examination of The Village Voice charges to date, writer and literary journalist Stephen Schiff interviewed eleven editors who worked with Kosiński. All but one —Richard Hayes, the principal source of The Village Voice's charges— provided "remarkably uniform" responses. John Hackett, who edited Cockpit, told Schiff that "all he did was standard editorial work... the sentences [Kosiński] was writing were his sentences, and they were of the same quality, with lapses here and there, as sentences in Steps." In Rocco Landesman's words, Kosiński's "prose was no rougher than typical first or second drafts... The idea that we were writing it is silly. The stuff was already written"[44]. Faith Sale, who worked on Blind Date, told the journalist John Taylor that she did "exactly what an in-house editor would do... he has a distinctive style and moral tone that are the same from book to book."[45] Barbara MacKay, who worked with Kosiński on six novels, said "we would edit it together. I don't even feel it was collaborative. Those books were all his, and the ideas were his, and the language is very much his."[46]

Consistent with Skinner's observation about Kosiński's "dexterity, speed and familiarity," these are unequivocal words, with little margin left for interpretation. Yet none of these quotes can be found in Sloan's book, and the names of several editors are missing from the list of the people Sloan interviewed. Instead, he attributes Barbara MacKay's stance to her "ferocious loyalty,"[47] satisfactory pay, and "the gift of one of his [Kosiński's] old cars."[48] "In the crisis over his ‘authorship’ of the novels," writes Sloan in a particularly insidious comment, typical of many statements within his book, "Barbara would take more care than any other editor in disavowing co-authorship while delineating the unusual sort of editorial services she provided."[49] Schiff's and Taylor's findings have been further corroborated by Melvin Jules Bukiet, a New York writer and critic who interviewed three editors[50]. In view of those conclusions, which have not been challenged or refuted by Sloan, his repeated statements about Kosiński's "helpers" are simply false.

Peter Skinner's contribution to The Painted Bird and Steps was, indeed, of major importance. Far from diminishing Kosiński's stance as a writer, it was a tribute to Skinner's outstanding editorial skills, in the best tradition of other editors who have chosen the craft of laboring over someone else's texts and making them polished enough to qualify for publishing contracts, best-seller lists, or literary prizes.

On Sex And High Society

Sex was, of course, Kosiński's passion play. He pursued younger women. He had affairs. He entertained friends and television audiences with stories about his nightly wanderings through New York's S & M clubs. He photographed transsexuals obsessively. Images of sexual perversions stare boldly from the pages of his novels.

Sloan is meticulous in documenting that side of Kosiński's life. He found women whom Kosiński chased around the table, and those who visited sex clubs with him, and those who never gave in to his advances. He describes when intercourse took place and how it was conducted. He calls Kosiński's incessant hunt for women "vampirish,"[51] although the same adjective can be applied to Sloan's sordid, voyeuristic cataloging of Kosiński's sexual liaisons and adventures, where no detail is too trivial or prurient to be worth a mention.

All of it is undoubtedly true. But Kosiński's obsessive pursuit of sex took place in a uniquely permissive society, in a pre-herpes, pre-HIV era, when in New York sex became both a social adventure and a social preoccupation. Stefan Zweig wrote of Germany in the Weimar years:

Berlin was transformed into the Babylon of the modern world... in the dimly-lit bars one might see government officials and men of the world of finance tenderly courting drunken sailors without any shame. Even the Rome of Suetonius had never known such orgies as the pervert balls of Berlin, where hundreds of men costumed as women and hundreds of women as men danced under the benevolent eyes of the police[52].

Zweig might have been writing about New York of the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to sexual netherworld clubs —Hellfire, Mine Shaft, Ramrod, Meat— the city offered a wealth of other pleasure domes, much more widely accepted but not entirely dissimilar in character. Although different in style and catering to a somewhat different audience, fashionable and wildly popular establishments like Studio 54, Xenon, or Limelight offered an almost infinite choice of instantly available and anonymous sexual interchanges, tailor-made to any need, desire, or combination. The clientele was predominantly middle class, not infrequently suburban, seeking a thrill beyond those common to neighborhood bars. There was no stigma attached to the sex trade: New York's notorious sex club, Plato's Retreat, did not hide in the murky depths of the meatpacking district but proudly displayed its shingle at the very core of Manhattan's Upper West Side, in the splendid Beaux-Arts Ansonia building at 74th and Broadway, where Enrico Caruso, Theodore Dreiser, and Arturo Toscanini once lived, a pleasant walk from Kosiński's West 57th Street apartment.

If New York was America's Berlin, Kosiński was its Otto Dix. Were his forays into the night darker than Erich Maria Remarque's and Thomas Wolfe's habitual pursuit of prostitutes, or Graham Greene's global tours of brothels, from South East Asia to Cuba? Were Kosiński's fascinations with the bizarre different from the transgender experiments of Marlene Dietrich or Tamara de Lempicka? Hardly. Kosiński, says Sloan, liked black prostitutes. Well, so did the president of the United States, given to instructing officers of his security detail to "get him some poon."[53]

In any case, in the sexual Zeitgeist of his time and place, Kosiński was both a contributor and participant, but certainly not a trendsetter. His novels never shook America's mores in the way that those by Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, or even Erica Jong did. In truth, he played a rather minor part in stretching the limits of what was publicly acceptable: concurrently with Kosiński, gay and lesbian art assimilated hardcore sexuality as part of its mainstream and quickly reached out beyond its traditional audience. It is true that Robert Mapplethorpe's first exhibition of sadomasochistic photographs took place at New York's Kitchen, but magazines with Tom of Finland's covers soon made similar imagery, as explicit as anything Kosiński ever produced, available at most of America's newstands. The year Kosiński died, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho appeared, entwined in a huge publishing controversy, and shockingly altering the paradigm of violence projected through mass culture. Neither Kosiński's novels nor his pronouncements on nighttime TV ever elicited that kind of a public outcry.

Blatant sexual promiscuity was only one of Kosiński's traits that Sloan feels indignant about. The other is what Sloan sees as Kosiński's shameless and self-serving social climbing; the biography repeatedly refers to Kosiński's hobnobbing with New York's glitz and glitterati set and his "ingratiating himself"[54] with the "Movers and Shakers of the Late 1970s."[55]

One man's ingratiating is another's way of maintaining friendship. Kosiński's friends, scrupulously listed by Sloan, included Time Inc. editor-in-chief Henry Grunwald, New York Senator Jacob Javits, The New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal, The Paris Review publisher George Plimpton, and political columnist Joseph Kraft. There were others: fashion designers Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta, Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, actor Warren Beatty, and film producer Ted Field.

By all accounts, Kosiński was in constant and excessive demand as a dinner or weekend companion. People he generally socialized with were not the idle rich or the professional hostesses of the Truman Capote crowd, who loved to be entertained by intellectuals. Kosiński's friends, most of them with formidable intellects, had uninterrupted access to the best social entertainment America could offer and were notoriously discriminating and impatient; no amount of "ingratiating" could buy the friendship of magazine and newspaper moguls Clay Felker or Punch Sulzberger. Kosiński gave value and gave of himself. As a party attraction, he was peerless, as a personal friend, he was caring, attentive, judgment-free.

There was more. In the 1970s, media and communications conglomerates were rapidly bulking up, swallowing independent companies from related fields, including magazine and book publishing. Cutthroat competition quickly replaced the leisurely, clubby atmosphere once prevalent in editorial offices[56]. Writers and artists, like movie stars in Hollywood's old studio system, became treasured business assets, and media and entertainment tycoons with unlimited resources —Charles Bluhdorn of Gulf+Western, Steve Ross of Time Warner, Si Newhouse of Condé Nast— reached out to ensure that their prized properties were treated accordingly, with Hollywood-grade perks and maximum exposure in publications they owned and TV programs they controlled or influenced. In the 1980s, publishing became a business so glamorous that even magazine and book editors —Tina Brown, Joni Evans, Sonny Mehta— became celebrities on their own[57].

Kosiński, a tireless self-promoter, did not resist. Among those who were courted, few did[58].

A Literary Oeuvre Or A Sham?

In the past, Sloan had praised Kosiński as a writer of stature, with a unique and important role in the contemporary literary landscape. Although the quality of Kosiński's novels deteriorated over time, that should in no way have influenced the assessment and rank of his early literary accomplishments. Yet, for Sloan, it did.

Gone from Sloan's biography are literary antecedents of any magnitude or, for that matter, any literary contexts. Kosiński's chosen literary method, which he called autofiction, is to Sloan nothing more than "one of the great political inventions of the twentieth century... telling lies with an elaborate intellectual rationale explaining why the telling of lies is okay."[59] Kosiński, of course, did not invent autofiction, nor is it limited to his work. Marguerite Duras, older than Kosiński by two decades, practiced it; the French novelist and literary scholar Serge Doubrovsky defined it as "fiction of strictly real facts."[60] In America, it was the domain of Joseph Heller and Philip Roth; in Poland, among Kosiński's generation and those somewhat younger, autofiction had been one of the most commonly practiced literary oeuvres. Marek Hłasko, Marek Nowakowski, Andrzej Brycht, Edward Redliński, and Andrzej Żuławski, among others, created a large canon of works, drawing heavily and directly on their own experiences. Measured in terms of proximity and relationship to their authors' own biographies, Kosiński's George Levanter does not differ in any material way from Roth's Zuckerman, Hłasko's Jakub, or Redliński's first-person, nameless narrator.

Sloan disagrees with that. In his view, Kosiński's fictional transformation of real-life events and characters becomes not so much a chosen artistic method but rather a sign of a less-than-imaginative mind, incapable of formulating plots and situations on its own. To Sloan, the notion of autofiction as an important postmodern literary genre is unacceptable: he calls it "a powerfully nihilistic concept... more political than literary in its genesis."[61] But this negation of Kosiński's chosen literary method has its consequence; by refusing to acknowledge Kosiński's genre as a viable creative choice, Sloan substantively rejects him as a writer and ends up pointing the lens of his biography very much at Jerzy Kosiński, the person.

Moreover, if autofiction is a sham, how does one distinguish between the author and his protagonists? Throughout Sloan's biography, the actions of Kosiński's fictional characters are frequently reduced to direct extensions of the events taking place in the life of their creator, and are discussed in that context. In The Painted Bird, upon arrival of the Red Army the Boy is given a soldier's uniform, made in his size by a regimental tailor. Sloan objects: Kosiński "appropriated" in the novel the uniform worn in real life by his little brother Henryk. In Blind Date, George Levanter travels with Mary-Jane Kirkland in a private plane. Sloan offers a correction: Mary Weir, Kosiński's first wife, did not own an airplane. A fictional market crash in The Devil Tree causes the heroine, Mrs. Whalen, to lose sixty-two million dollars in a single day. Sloan protests: describing events of that day "Kosiński was slightly muddled... The amount mentioned in the novel greatly exaggerates Mary Weir's wealth by any method of counting."[62]

This incessant search for a set of original blueprints inevitably creates paradoxes and contradictions. In the case of The Painted Bird, Kosiński is faulted for fabricating too much: the uniform was not his, the good schoolmaster Migdałek never copulated with rabbits. Conversely, in the case of other books, the opposite is true, as Sloan finds autofiction to be deficient in its fictive component, or too close to reality.

The juxtaposition of literary scenes and real events in Kosiński's life in not unique. According to Joanna Siedlecka, the Poles of Dąbrowa Rzeczycka, where the Kosiński family hid during the war, felt wronged and damaged by The Painted Bird, a novel in which their imaginary counterparts commit acts of horrifying violence and sexual perversion. While it is not difficult to understand the denizens of Dąbrowa, Sloan, who is both a professor of literature at an American university and a novelist, must have been aware of the fundamental differences between Mary Weir and the fictional Mrs. Whalen, or between Jerzy Kosiński and George Levanter. As most of literature is based in some way on events experienced in real life, equating a literary character with its prototype can only serve to deny the writer the most basic freedom of fabularizing or, for that matter, distorting reality. In the same vein, one could argue that Picasso's models did not have three eyes and Dali's giraffes never burst into flames. Although the palimpsest image of Allan Bloom is clearly visible in the background of Abe Ravelstein, no critic has accused Saul Bellow of "being muddled."

This substitution of the literary for the real characterized Kosiński's reception in Poland, where the publication of The Painted Bird in the U.S. and Europe in the mid-1960s coincided with a powerful surge of nationalistic tendencies within Poland's ruling communist party. A major part of the rhetoric of the time involved defending Poland's image against Western accusations of mistreatment of Jews during World War II, then and now one of the most contentious and incendiary subjects in Poland's modern history. For the communationalists, The Painted Bird or, in the language of the time, Kosiński's "repugnant anti-Polish calumny,"[63] became the ultimate symbol of Jewish perfidy. Although at that time The Painted Bird was not even available in Poland and few if any of the people who wrote about it had actually read the book, the coordinated onslaught included dozens of articles attacking the novel and its author in a manner which accurately anticipated the phraseology of the anti-Semitic campaign of 1968.

Joanna Siedlecka took a similar non-literary tack in her book Czarny ptasior[64], in which she tracked down the wartime wanderings of the Kosiński family for the purpose of direct comparison of individual characters and events with the contents of The Painted Bird. Designed and executed as a denunciation of Kosiński's purportedly libelous treatment of his saviors, Czarny ptasior actually went beyond the attacks of the 1960s, with Siedlecka accusing Kosiński's father of collaborating first with the Nazis, then with the Soviet secret police.

During the years of Stalinism, the socialist-realist doctrine enforced in Poland demanded accurate representation of life in art and rejected the notion of "literary lies." But adherence to that dogma had ended in the mid-1950s; since then, Poland developed a rich and varied literature that frequently blurs the difference between life and art. There is sound understanding of the differences between fiction and nonfiction, and no tradition of implying a documentary truth to the pages of a novel, no matter how important or sensitive its subject. In Rojsty, a Polish autofictive classic, Tadeusz Konwicki described his wartime experiences in the anti-Soviet underground. The novel contains a graphic episode of a rape perpetrated on a peasant child by a Home Army officer in the presence of his partisans[65]. Although Konwicki rooted his book in historically accurate events and locations, there have been no attempts to confirm or deny the veracity of the incident. Similarly, neither of the two book-length interviews with Konwicki raises questions of historical truth in his fiction, or the lack of it.

Thus, the equation of reality with fiction seems to apply only to the Polish response to Kosiński, or rather to The Painted Bird. The anti-Kosiński campaign of the 1960s and Joanna Siedlecka's book have little to do with literature. They are, in both cases, a component of the Polish response to the complex, painful, and ultimately irresoluble issue of the two truths of wartime history, which the Poles and the Jews remember differently and where the staked positions are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

The Dark Side

The undisguised bias built into Siedlecka's book will probably make it of limited interest to future Kosiński scholars. The questions about Sloan's biography are more complex: Does the book disclose all that is relevant? Does it present it in a fair light? As a general rule, biographies tend to be neutral in their language, focusing instead on the breadth of canvas and richness of detail, which help bring back to life people who are long gone. Sloan has certainly done a very substantial amount of research, but his book is far from being judgment-free.

Kosiński's fables, myths, lies, and confabulations are a matter of record. But to Sloan, every action of Kosiński's becomes a manipulation, and every word is suspect. There is a barely disguised effort to dig out the dirt, to skew events toward the pejorative. In Sloan's eyes, even genuine and undeniable accomplishments are frequently and not quite understandably diminished.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the description of Kosiński's literary and academic laurels. Sloan is a professional, competent wordsmith, so irony or Schadenfreude are certainly not accidental. Examples abound. The Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger for The Painted Bird results in barely disguised sarcasm:

Kosiński had swept the French intellectual world off its feet. Any who doubted the aesthetic merits of The Painted Bird were now shamed into silence. The authority of the ‘eleven distinguished jurors’ was an absolute in New York as in Paris.... [66]

Describing the awarding to Steps of the National Book Award, a prize that Sloan calls the "top of the heap in American letters,"[67] he writes:

Never mind that Steps was a compromise choice, after two front-runners knocked each other out. Never mind that it was actually a belated, apologetic award to The Painted Bird, which had not even been nominated[68].

Invited to teach first at Wesleyan, then at Princeton, popular among students and praised by colleagues, Kosiński becomes "an academic Stakhanovite"[69] who "had hustled madly to be on the professor's side of the desk."[70] Asked by Robert Brustein, eminent theatrical director and critic, to join the faculty of Drama Criticism at Yale, Kosiński accepts "to Brustein's surprise," as the offer was "put forward casually."[71] In 1972, says Sloan, Kosiński "managed to get himself named to the panel of judges for the National Book Award"[72]; how Kosiński accomplished this, Sloan does not explain. A minor corollary is due: that same year Sloan's novel, The Case History of Comrade V, was nominated for the "top of the heap" prize that Kosiński was now judging. It did not win.

The above comments might be seen as a trifle, perhaps barely worth mentioning, compared to the impressive scope of Sloan's work. However, the suspicion of the author's bias is substantiated by another, more serious consideration. Kosiński, who lived a compartmentalized and secretive life, was notoriously difficult to know; researching the biography, Sloan spoke to over one hundred friends, acquaintances, and associates in America and Europe who knew Kosiński — some for decades, others only briefly. As imposing as this list is, there appears to be a distinct pattern to it: a significant percentage of Jerzy Kosiński's closest friends were never contacted by Sloan.

Chief among them was Andrzej Wat, who met Kosiński during the summer holidays at the seaside resort of Łeba in 1950. His father was the eminent poet and writer Aleksander Wat, then editor-in-chief of PIW, Poland's leading publishing house, and a key figure in the Polish PEN Club[73]. Beginning that summer, Kosiński became a frequent visitor at the Wats's Warsaw home, at that time one of the city's important cultural salons. For young Kosiński, whose supercharged intellectual ambitions could hardly be satisfied within his own home and in Łódź, this must have been a strong and formative experience. It was Aleksander Wat, a senior man of Polish letters, who, upon hearing Kosiński's wartime stories, first urged him to use those stories to create a book[74].

In 1959, the Wats left Poland and settled in France. Kosiński, who described young Wat as "my closest psychological brother,"[75] visited him in Paris at least once a year starting in the early 1960s, making their friendship the longest uninterrupted relationship in Kosiński's life. Wat, to whom Kosiński dedicated his Notes of the Author, remained his literary sounding board for decades; Kiki von Fraunhofer-Kosiński says that "Jerzy never began a book before discussing it with Andrzej first."[76] Yet although Wat's insights into Kosiński's life were unique and not duplicable by the memories of others, Sloan never spoke to him.

There are other areas of Kosiński's life that Sloan either left unexplored or treated in a perfunctory manner. Notable among them is Crans-Montana, a Swiss mountain resort where Kosiński bought an apartment in 1972 and which effectively became his second home. Among Alpine destinations, Crans seemed an unlikely choice for Kosiński. Unlike Zermatt, Gstaad, or Verbier, it was considered a year-round family resort, known for its sunny climate, easy slopes, and excellent schools for younger children. With its almost complete absence of nightlife and limited culinary options, Crans never became a magnet for fashionable crowds, hardcore skiers, or mountain climbers. Its leisurely pace made the village remarkably similar to the Polish mountain resort of Krynica, where Kosiński used to spend winter vacations in his adolescence. In Crans, where Kosiński sometimes stayed for several months at a time, he quickly became a part of the community — not so much as a celebrity novelist, but as a local resident who integrated easily and had a strong commitment to the place and its people. Among many friendships he cultivated in Crans, two were particularly meaningful.

In the mid-1970s Kosiński met George Whyte, an Englishman of Jewish-Hungarian origin, who had an apartment in the same building. Whyte, in his earlier life a successful businessman who became prominent in the British arts scene, was the author of the monumental Dreyfus Trilogy —the opera The Dreyfus Affair, the musical satire Rage and Outrage, and the dance drama J'accuse— much of it created in Crans. Kosiński had a special bond with Whyte, a fellow Eastern European émigré and intellectual, who for many winters was his daily skiing companion. Their friendship coincided with Kosiński's increased interest in Jewish issues, an area in which Whyte was an exponent of passionate and informed opinions. "The Second Holocaust," an op-ed Boston Globe piece written in Crans in which Kosiński protested the sanctification of the Shoah, was first conceived and articulated in Kosiński's intense discussions with Whyte.

Another friend was Ewa Bayard, an adventurous and colorful native of Krakow, who left Poland to sail around the world and ended up in West Africa. After some trying and uncertain times, she eventually married Jean Bayard, the head of medical analysis department at the regional Valais hospitals, and settled in Crans. Kosiński knew the Bayards since the mid-1970s and became particularly close to Ewa in the early 1980s, after The Village Voice exposé powerfully undermined his identity and self-image. He admired enormously her resilience, her ability to rebuild her life, and the easy way in which she blended into a foreign marriage and a foreign culture while tenaciously preserving her Polish identity.

Kosiński in Switzerland was different from his New York persona. There were no sex clubs in Crans, no social competition, and no attendant pressures. He did not have to "hustle like mad" there. It was Europe, and there were parts of Kosiński that may have been more at home in Crans than in New York. Yet Sloan, who journeyed into the depths of Russia on the remote chance that some of Kosiński's footsteps might be traceable there despite the passage of forty years, for some reason considered Crans unworthy of a personal look. He also must have assumed that local Kosiński's friends there —the financier and local cultural personality Richard Robyr, the journalist Eric Lehman, and others— did not have much to add to the Kosiński profile he was building.

There were numerous other people whose importance in Kosiński's life cannot be exaggerated. They include Abe Rosenthal, editor of The New York Times, who shared with Kosiński memories of Poland in the 1950s and who threw his paper's weight in Kosiński's defense against The Village Voice charges; historian Antony Polonsky, one of the creators of Polish-Jewish dialogue in the 1980s, who infected Kosiński with his enthusiasm for the cause and got him to commit the final years of his life to it; and film producer Ted Field, Kosiński's closest friend throughout the 1980s, who had the Kosińskis' names permanently affixed to the doors of his guestroom and who invested or donated almost two million dollars to the academic and business initiatives Kosiński championed. On the final night of his life, Kosiński inscribed two copies of The Painted Bird - one to his wife Kiki, the other to Ted Field. While Sloan was diligent enough to interview many people who briefly passed through Jerzy Kosiński's life, he never spoke to Field, Rosenthal, Polonsky and a number of others, to whom Kosiński was undeniably close.

It is difficult to fathom that this selective approach to sources could have been accidental. James Park Sloan did not respond to requests for an interview placed with him or with his literary agent, so any speculation on the bias of his source selection and the undisguised current of negativism which runs through his book must remain just that. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that early on he had built in his mind a specific image of Jerzy Kosiński and worked diligently to substantiate it, to the conscious or subliminal exclusion of any arguments which might have altered that profile. But if this were the case, by slanting his book toward a preconceived and negative vision, Sloan has flattened and diminished his chief and only character. If Kosiński was truly a creepy, manipulative liar whose books were composed by others and who slithered his way to the top, it is difficult to understand why Sloan would devote several years and a five hundred-page-long book to him.

On my mantelpiece stands a photograph of Jerzy Kosiński, taken in November of 1988. Not much of him is visible: Kosiński had just entered the bedroom of my fifteeen-month-old son, removed the brown zippered ankle boots he was so fond of wearing, and climbed into my son's crib, repeatedly folding his long, stick-like body in places where no joints exist. He placed himself behind the child and was nuzzling his neck; and my son, then and now often apprehensive of strangers, is laughing hysterically, with an expression of exuberant, unbridled joy I have been unable to find in any of the hundreds of photographs I have taken of him since that day.

In the case of Jerzy Kosiński, I am not a disinterested bystander. Kosiński was a friend of mine, and I continue to miss his presence in my life. Still, I would like to believe that my emotions have not distorted my sense of fundamental fairness, have not challenged my ability to discern the real from the imagined. I remain acutely aware of the dark corners of Kosiński's soul, which he sometimes wittingly or unwittingly exposed. But looking at that photograph I understand that at the very core of Jerzy Kosiński's charismatic personality was a rare ability to connect with others —children, adults, women, and men— at a special emotional frequency which not all people are able to receive.

In the technical language of data transmission, a successful linking of two distant stations is called a handshake, an acknowledgment that an invisible flow of submicroscopic impulses can move freely. Those who were lucky enough to establish that connection continue to remember Kosiński's unrestricted generosity of spirit and mind, a myriad of minor kindnesses. That too was his special talent, perhaps no lesser than his ability to conjure images and place them on paper. That quality, so obvious to Sloan when he was writing his impassioned remembrance and eulogy of Kosiński, is nowhere to be found in his biography. Stripped of the original's brilliant colors, tilted to expose mostly his dark side, Sloan's Kosiński remains a flattened, two-dimensional image, a frantic, cartoonish Roadrunner, always hurtling through an empty landscape toward an unknown destination.

Henry Dasko        
The Polish Review/PIASA        
Vol. XLIX No. 1, 2004:687-710        
ISSN 32-2970        


[ 1] Tom Teicholz, Conversations with Jerzy Kosiński (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993). [back]

[ 2] James Park Sloan, Jerzy Kosiński (New York: Dutton, 1996). Hereafter cited as JK[back]

[ 3] "Wszyscy chcielibyśmy wysadzać pociągi," Interview with Tomasz Mirkowicz, Gazeta Wyborcza - Książki (July 12, 1995), p. 7. [back]

[ 4] James Park Sloan, University Review, 18 (Summer 1971). [back]

[ 5] James Park Sloan, The Third Press Review, 1.1 (September-October 1975), p. 11. [back]

[ 6] Reader, Chicago's Free Weekly, 20/38, (June 28, 1991), p. 10. [back]

[ 7] Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont-Smith, "Jerzy Kosiński's Tainted Words", The Village Voice (June 22, 1982), p. 1. [back]

[ 8] Sloan, JK, p. 247. [back]

[ 9] Jack Kuper, "Who was Jerzy Kosiński?" Toronto Life (June 1993), p. 59. [back]

[10] Sloan, JK, p. 143. [back]

[11] Sloan, JK, p. 435. [back]

[12] Kuper, JK, p. 59. [back]

[13] Sloan, JK, p. 168. [back]

[14] Tadeusz Konwicki, Zorze Wieczorne (Warszawa: Alfa, 1991), p. 50. [back]

[15] Sloan, JK, p. 292. [back]

[16] Sloan, JK, p. 67. [back]

[17] Sloan, JK, p. 449. [back]

[18] "Współcześni polscy pisarze i badacze literatury," II (Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, 1994), p. 185. [back]

[19] Sloan, JK, p. 126. [back]

[20] Sloan, JK, p. 65. [back]

[21] Sloan, JK, p. 64. [back]

[22] Sloan, JK, p. 357. [back]

[23] Sloan, JK, p. 65. [back]

[24] Dyzma did not wear a tuxedo to the reception at the Europejski; Leon Kunicki did not offer Dyzma a bribe for an introduction to an official; Kunicki did not die in the novel. [back]

[25] Sloan, JK, p. 66. [back]

[26] Barbara J. Tepa, "Jerzy Kosiński's Polish Contexts: A Study of Being There," The Polish Review, 22.2 (1977), pp. 52-61. See also Barbara Tepa Lupack, Plays of Passion, Games of Chance: Jerzy Kosiński and His Fiction (Bristol: Rhodes-Fulbright International Library, 1988). [back]

[27] Piotr Śliwiński, Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz (Poznań: Rebis, 1994), p. 65. [back]

[28] Sloan, JK, pp. 6, 386. [back]

[29] Jewish journalist S. L. Shneiderman and The Village Voice publisher David Schneiderman are two different people; Professor Antony Polonsky, born and educated in South Africa, is not a Polish émigré; historian Maciej Jachimczyk met Kosiński in New York in the 1980s and was not an old acquaintance from Warsaw; Michal Urbaniak is not a jazz trumpeter. [back]

[30] Sloan, JK, p. 198. [back]

[31] Sloan, JK, p. 200. [back]

[32] "Jerzy Kosiński-In Memoriam," Przegląd Polski (June 8, 1991), p. 6. [back]

[33] Telephone interview with Edward Dusza (July 30, 1991). [back]

[34] Sloan, JK, p. 205. [back]

[35] "Listy do Redakcji," Przegląd Polski ( July 4, 1991), p. 12. [back]

[36] Telephone interview with Aleksander Jordan Lutosławski (July 30, 1991). [back]

[37] Sloan, JK, p. 316. [back]

[38] Telephone interview with Peter Skinner (July 27, 1991). [back]

[39] Vladimir Nabokov, The Annotated Lolita (New York: McGraw Hill, 1979), p. 318. [back]

[40] Telephone conversation with Robert Loomis (January 14, 2004). [back]

[41] National Post [Toronto] (December 4, 2000), p.1. [back]

[42] www.goodreports.net/death[back]

[43] D. T. Max, "Raymond Carver's Afterlife," The New York Times Magazine (August 6, 1998), p. 37. [back]

[44] Stephen Schiff, "The Kosiński Conundrum," Vanity Fair (June 1988), p. 168. [back]

[45] John Taylor, "The Haunted Bird," New York Magazine (July 15, 1991), p. 32. [back]

[46] Schiff, p. 168. [back]

[47] Sloan, JK, p. 299. [back]

[48] Sloan, JK, p. 300. [back]

[49] Sloan, JK, p. 300. [back]

[50] Melvin Jules Bukiet, "Does it matter if an artist ‘invents’ his own life?" Boston Globe (March 10, 1996). [back]

[51] Sloan, JK, p. 361. [back]

[52] Quoted in Anton Gill, A Dance Between Flames (London: John Murray, 1993), p. 46. [back]

[53] Seymour M. Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1997), p. 227. [back]

[54] Sloan, JK, p. 262. [back]

[55] Sloan, JK, p. 345. [back]

[56] Michael Korda, Another Life (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 387. [back]

[57] Thomas Maier, Newhouse (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994), p. 190. [back]

[58] Maier, p. 109. [back]

[59] Sloan, JK, p. 217. [back]

[60] Serge Doubrovsky, Fils (Paris: Grasset, 1977), back cover. [back]

[61] Sloan, JK, p. 217. [back]

[62] Sloan, JK, p. 181. [back]

[63] Jerzy Brochocki [Ryszard Gontarz], Rewolta Marcowa (Warszawa: Placówka, 1992), p. 136. [back]

[64] Joanna Siedlecka, Czarny ptasior (Warszawa: ABC, 1998). [back]

[65] Tadeusz Konwicki, Rojsty (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1959), p. 34. [back]

[66] Sloan, JK, p. 235. [back]

[67] Sloan, JK, p. 269. [back]

[68] Sloan, JK, p. 270. [back]

[69] Sloan, JK p. 265. [back]

[70] Sloan, JK, p. 286. [back]

[71] Sloan, JK, p. 288. [back]

[72] Sloan, JK, p. 309. [back]

[73] Tomas Venclova, Aleksander Wat (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 162. [back]

[74] Andrzej Wat, "Ewokacja," Tygiel Kultury (June 1996), p. 6. [back]

[75] Jerzy Kosiński, Passing By: Selected Essays, 1960-1991 (New York: Random House, 1992), p. 5. [back]

[76] Telephone conversation with Katherina von Fraunhofer-Kosiński (January 16, 2004). [back]


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