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Book Abandoned: The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski

with 6 comments

I’m usually really bad at abandoning books that aren’t working out for me. I always feel this sense of obligation to finish what I’ve started, or something, no matter what (luckily it doesn’t come up too often, because I’m pretty good at judging which books I’ll like, or at least not hate). But I’m getting better at it! I’ve successfully put down The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski without feeling any need to pick it up again.

It’s about a little boy around seven years of age, presumed to be of gypsy or Jewish descent, whose parents send him away from their city home during WWII in a last-ditch effort to keep him safe. He wanders from village to village in eastern Europe, presumably Poland, but instead of safety, he finds dehumanization and violence every step of the way. The villagers are gruff, allowing their superstitions about his hair color, eye color, and skin tone to justify their prejudice. Each chapter is the story of another beating, another rape, another torture, by yet another perpetrator.

I mean really, how many violent rapes are there in this book? There were two in the 80 pages or so I got through and there are 251 pages in the book, so I’d rather not hazard a guess. And none of these incidents seems to lead to any point other than “humanity contains a seemingly endless capacity for evil”, which I guess is the point of the book. Well, okay, point made. Is that all? From what other comments I’ve seen and heard made about the book, it seems that yeah: that is all.

It’s not that the book is bad, necessarily. There is just only so much graphic depiction of violence this reader can stand, especially if it doesn’t seem to be adding to anything, or going anywhere.

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Written by Emily Jane

July 28, 2010 at 12:13 am

6 Responses

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  1. I think that’s a good reason to abandon a book: I hate a book that consists of nothing but violence. I’ve read some incredible fiction set during war that definitely included violence, but it didn’t feel pointless. It has to be justified, you know?

    Eva

    July 28, 2010 at 11:36 am

  2. Yes, exactly.

    Emily Jane

    July 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm

  3. Two rapes in eighty pages? Good Lord. I read somewhere that proper bodice-ripping romance novels are supposed to have a sex scene every sixty pages; this rape quota is excessive even by those standards.

    Jenny

    July 30, 2010 at 12:11 am

    • Ha, I hadn’t heard about that…but yeah, too many rapes for any standard!

      Emily Jane

      July 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm

  4. I read that book years ago and you’re not missing anything by abandoning it. I don’t remember details now but I do remember it having some disturbing sexual violence, and something involving a goat that was also disturbing.

    Christy

    August 5, 2010 at 11:35 pm

  5. Yeeesh. Didn’t make it to any part with a goat; I can only imagine. I’m both relieved and saddened to hear that I’m not missing anything by putting this book down!

    Emily Jane

    August 6, 2010 at 1:04 am


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