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The Painted Bird

Narrated by: Fred Berman, Michael Aronov
Length: 10 hrs and 12 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4.5 out of 5 stars (53 ratings)

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Summary

Originally published in 1965, The Painted Bird established Jerzy Kosinski as a major literary figure. Called by the Los Angeles Times "one of the most imposing novels of the decade" it was eventually translated into more than 30 languages.

A harrowing story that follows the wanderings of a boy abandoned by his parents during World War II, The Painted Bird is a dark masterpiece that examines the proximity of terror and savagery to innocence and love. It is the first, and the most famous, novel by one of the most important and original writers of this century.

©1965 Jerzy N. Kosinski (P)2010 HighBridge Company

Critic reviews

"One of the best. . . . Written with deep sincerity and sensitivity." (Elie Wiesel, The New York Times Book Review)
"Extraordinary... literally staggering...one of the most powerful books I have ever read." ( Harper’s magazine)

What members say

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the painted bird

hard to believe this story i couldn't believe people could carry any of this out. unfortunately history of the human race says different. genuinely this book scared the shit out of me

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Overwhelming

An intense illustration of suffering and loss of innocence. You will feel it and quickly become addicted to the shocking story. I will try to learn more about what I should habe learned from this book. For now I'm just left with a strong sense of aftershock. Great writing, brilliant recording, rattling story.

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Thought provoking and very moving

Please do not give up on this book when it becomes almost unbearably brutal. It is worth listening until the end even if you do have to pause to regroup your thoughts and emotions. The Afterword goes a long way to helping understand the reason the book was written.
This book was hard to listen to but I'm glad I did.

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Enthralling and hard hitting tale

This was a dark story which was hard to get through at times, but gave a realistic feeling of the horrors that war brings. The weak and vulnerable are the ones who suffer most, and the author doesn't hold back in showing this.

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  • Shawn
  • 01-12-11

A guided tour of Hell.

This book is a harrowing experience from beginning to end, no question about it. It is an unrelentingly bleak cataloging of human cruelty. There are moments that are very hard to get through. Moments when you must stop and catch your breath before going on.

I was utterly taken aback by several scenes in the novel, horrors that I knew at once I would never forget. Here are depictions of depravity so raw and visceral they leave the reader virtually poleaxed; stunned and gasping.

And then, at the end, I was equally shocked by something Kosinski says in his brief afterword.

He mentions that at a family gathering some years after the publication of his novel, family members from Eastern Europe accused him of downplaying the atrocities that occurred in their villages. Downplaying indeed.

Be forewarned. This one is a tough listen. It is however, a remarkable novel and justifiably considered a classic not just of Holocaust literature but in the larger sense as well.

Darkly poetic. Starkly beautiful. Mesmerizing and brutal. It is difficult to look away once the novel's melancholy spell takes hold.

Fred Berman's narration seemed entirely appropriate to me. Lightly accented, but easily understandable. Never overdone; never distracting. All in all, a very good fit for an undeniably difficult but worthwhile listen.



27 people found this helpful

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  • William Magoolaghan
  • 13-06-14

It grips you and makes you beg for mercy

What did you like best about this story?

Stark and brutal perspective of Eastern Europe during WWII

If you could rename The Painted Bird, what would you call it?

Cruelty, A Primer

Any additional comments?

A harrowing and beautifully written book. Where Vonnegut gave us the American perspective of WWII in Slaughterhouse 5, Kosinski bring us the opposite, horrifying perspective through the eyes of a Jewish child as he witnesses and deals with the madness and carnage of WWII. This novel brings to vivid life the anguish and brutality of the times more than other books, photos or movies I have read/seen...it was a difficult read, but a mesmerizing one, and I felt at several times that I couldn't read any more but at the same time couldn't put this book down. A tremendous book really, the kind that changes your perspective on political realities...and makes you thankful for the enduring peace we have enjoyed in the US, but wary of what the future could hold. A must read -- but don't blame me for the nightmares you have afterwards.

11 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jen Terry
  • 21-05-10

Too miserable for me

I liked the writer's style and especially enjoyed the surrealistic moments, and the narrator was odd but perfect for the piece. However...I had to stop listening at chapter 8. The litany of cruelty to innocence is just too miserable to me. I was thinking, "OK, I get it already!" and had two thirds of the novel yet to go...really didn't need to have any more animals tortured and children abused in depressing detail to get the point. Skip to the end...

14 people found this helpful

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  • tom
  • 01-05-13

what a great book!

i read "the painted bird" when it first appeared as a pocket book around 1966 or 67, and was pretty much bowled over by it. curiously, despite the much later appearance of books like "bloodlands" by timothy snyder, which described, in gory detail, the unbelievable bloodshed that took place in that area, the "bloodlands" comprised of poland and the ukraine -- i.e., the "unnamed eastern countries" of the painted bird -- i never took kosinski's book as autobiography --- i imagined it more as a story about a "collective" character, a composite character, made up of the fates of several people that kosinski may have known or whose stories he had heard. it was, i thought, a fictional, or factive, story like günter grass's "tin drum" (based on WWII) or grimmelshausen's "simplicissimus", a story about a character lost in the terrors of the 30-year-war, of 1618-48. but also the book struck me as being on a par with those two books, which are classics in their own right, very well written, memorable. the character in TPB, a picaro, jewish, as in the very first picaresque novel i'd come across, lazarillo of "lazarillo de tormes", a spanish classic from around the time of christopher columbus -- so too, the little lazar, the little jew, in this book, wanders from one scene of horror into the next, as did the character lasik in "the stormy life of lasik roitschwantz" (1960) by ilya ehrenburg. another great book in the picaresque tradition and i'm sure one that kosinski --- an author much accused of plagiarism -- must have been familiar with -- even long before it appeared in english in 1960. the english translation of ehrenburg's masterwork is pretty poor, BTW, especially when compared to the wonderful german -- and vaguely yiddish-sounding -- translation of 1929. the point here is that kosinski's book is not without antecedent, but it appeared in the english-speaking world like a comet, out of nowhere, and certainly impressed with its blinding light. i was pleased to hear the book rendered in this un-hurried, slightly foreign-accented reading -- which could, for all intents and purposes --- be a deliberate "act", part of the voice-actor's performance --- and so, what of it? it increases the sense of verisimilitude, it improves the reading. which is totally wonderful! and yes, the book holds up remarkably well. another thing that was always obvious to me -- all the more so, when i read that roman polanski and kosinski had been friends or acquaintances at the lodz film school in poland --- was that polanski should long ago have made a movie of this book. it hasn't happened so far and may now be unlikely to happen at all. polanski did make a movie of dickens's "oliver twist", which didn't really go much anywhere beyond the level of an "illustrated classic" comic book. someday somebody may have to make that movie yet, and the more time passes while we wait for it to appear, the more the stature of the book will grow as one-of-the great-classics-of-the-20th-century-that-has-never-been-filmed, much as "the catcher in the rye" hasn't. kosinski's other great book, which i found on audible in a very calm and unaffected reading by dustin hoffman -- none less! to be sure --- is "being there", which also exists as a great movie, starring peter sellers. it just antedates the reagan presidency by a few years --- if it had appeared any later it would have been thought of as a parody or political satire. even so, it serves that purpose well, seen from today's vantage point. to wrap up the point i want to make here --- this is a great reading of a great book, and deserves all the stars it can get. i would point the listener to the shorter and very different reading of "being there" next. hoffman's reading, in its subdued, matter-of-fact voice, does the book justice, as does the sellers film, one of the great movies of the 1980s. reading, hearing and seeing just these two books should allay anybody's doubts about kosinski's true stature in american literature. "the painted bird" is a classic, and this is an excellent reading of it.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Maureen
  • 26-07-12

Chilling

This book shows, more than any that I have ever read, the need for good education everywhere.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Darryl
  • 08-07-12

Excellent but Tough

I love Kosinski and hope more of his work shows up. But he is not for everyone. I think this is an excellent novel, very poetic, tragic and brutal. Much like Cormac's The Road it is very disturbing at times, but I think it is an important work that should be read more and not forgotten. Stylistically it is full of poetry and symbolism, but sections can be hard to get through. I recommend it with caution.

8 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Colleen
  • 27-06-10

Extremely difficult

While I made it through this book - I did not enjoy it. I understand the author is making a point about the horrors of war on a civilian population - but the increasing depravity and horrid descriptions of the atrocities inflicted on animals, the protagonist, women, and a few men - were terrible to listen to. At the end, there is no satisfying conclusion to the story and it seemed sadistic and I felt a little dirty and disgusted at having listened to it all the way through. I would NOT recommend listening to this book. There was one scene in particular where I had to go into the bathroom and retch - it was that horrific.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Susan
  • 05-02-20

couldn't take it

stopped at chapter 7
thought I could take anything. read the rape of Nanking a few weeks back. it was easier to stomach. if this work is fictional, I can't imagine how tortured would have to be the mind that came up with this. just have to quit. good luck.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Caleb
  • 12-05-18

A dark, depressing, and often surreal tale

A dark, depressing, and often surreal tale of survival in Nazi-controlled Eastern Europe. This was recommended/not recommended by a professor I had. He recommended reading it because The Painted Bird is an influential (and controversial) work of Holocaust literature and his doctorate is in that field. He also didn't recommend reading it because it is dark and brutal and more than a little WTF.

In many ways 'The Painted Bird' reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. Both have a similar apocalyptic atmosphere in which the depravity of man is paramount and the desperate struggle for survival seems hopeless. However, setting historical and Holocaust literature values aside, 'The Road' is a better book. 'The Painted Bird' seems determined to beat you over the head as bluntly as possible with just how horrible people can be, especially toward an outsider (i.e. a painted bird). While this is understandable given the setting and background of the work, the repetitive brutality and increasing WTF-factor ultimately undercuts the power and progress of the story. And it is entirely possible this was the author's intent, to beat the reader down until he/she feels nothing but a grey sense of resignation and numbness to the horrors around them. It is effective in that regard, but it certainly makes for some unpleasant reading. The narration really adds to this steady slide into despair. It is not bad narration, but it is...tired. A sort of monotone drone of tired hopelessness. Again this adds to the overall unpleasantness, but it is strikingly appropriate to the story.

'The Painted Bird' is a work of historical value, and anyone interested in Holocaust literature should read it, although I was surprised how minimally the war and Holocaust itself factored directly into the bulk of the work. It is controversial, largely due to issues with the author, and I would suggest reading up on that, as well as the author's response.

Ultimately, this is a work that must be read in light of the Holocaust. On it's own there isn't really much about this book that I'd recommend, but placed in its proper context, it is clearly not insubstantial in its scope and impact.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen B. Krauss
  • 25-08-19

Still so impactful after all these years.

I first read The Painted Bird in the mid 70's. For me it was an amazing and piece of storytelling. I then had read everything Kozinski had written. In 1979 I met him at a book signing in Philadelphia. I brought all of my hard book issues of his books and signed everyone. Now these are among my most cherished possessions. I was a bit hesitant to have the story read to me, but the narrator did an excellent job. I thought his timing and emotion were perfect. Still so impactful after all these years.

1 person found this helpful