I had hoped we might get more interplay with our discussion of The Painted Bird, but the fact that a few of us at least read together and forced ourselves to think about something long enough to comment pleases me deeply. One final thought for me, and this goes back to an earlier commentary I posted on YITS' observations: Glancing at the Makovsky quotation he inserted before the text, I am convinced now that Kosinski consciously sought to write a novel about humans in the natural world acting as animals. What perhaps distinguishes man from other animals is another constant in the narrative, i.e. the comet, the all-important fire that literally could mean the difference between life and deah for the boy, who Prometheus-like, had to steal his own comet from another man. (Not sure how the Greek analogy works here, since Prometheus obviously belongs to the world of gods rather than men or animals.) I am much less sure how to address the theological issues contained in the narrative, a point that Sobes and YITS brought up for discussion, except perhaps to say that Kosinski's outlook seems rather dim on the idea of God caring much about the world He's created. If anything, I think he definitely mocks Christianity in general and the Catholic beliefs of the peasantry among whom the boy wanders in particular. It is possible Kosinski is making a distinction between religion, what he seems to think is the blind adherence to bizarre rituals and superstitions (the boy you will recall is frequently the victim of their 'misguided' beliefs), and spirituality, but I tended to percieve more a voice of almost total spiritual despair and contempt for those who don't quite 'get it' yet. People had always been comforted by their belief in God, K writes, And they usually died before their children. Such was the law of nature. [my emphasis] God was always in people's minds, he goes on, even when He Himself was too busy to listen to their prayers and keep track of their accumulated days of indulgence. Perhaps Kosinski wants to believe in a God, or grew up with belief and in a religious tradition he would like to have maintained, but his own experiences, similar to another famous Holocaust novelist, crushed him so completely as to extinguish God from the world and the divine spark from humanity (again, without the comet's spark, man whithers and dies). And here we return to where we began, Kosinki's own life story and its relevance to the text. What wasn't included in the Afterward (for some reason placed at the beginning of the novel), and for obvious reasons since that was written by Kosinski himself, is the fact that in 1979 Jerzy Kosinski took his own life.
Thanks to all who contributed their thoughts on the book. I hope more readers will join us in our next literary excursion, this time to Transylvania (Wallachia?) as we read The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Let's shoot for 1 April for our next discussion. Oh, and as a final thought I have no idea why someone would think The Painted Bird is pornographic! Oh, and no one mentioned the rat scene - OUCH! [YITS: your copy is on its way to Belfast, so don't worry bout buying one there.]