Jerzy Kosinski: 9a Biography

James Park Sloan, Author
James Park Sloan, Author Dutton Books $27.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-525-93784-5
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-452-27167-8
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When, from time to time, this lively bio fails to read as literary and critical detective work at its best, it entertains a la a People magazine profile. Sloan treats Kosinski, whom he describes as having a ""penchant for telling more than the truth,"" as a great man, a charming rogue and an impostor all rolled into one. The question is, what percentages of those qualities combined to make up the complete man? Born Jerzy Lewinkopf in Poland in 1933, he came to the U.S. on a student visa in the 1950s, published two anticommunist tracts pseudonymously, married a wealthy, alcoholic widow and became a celebrated novelist with The Painted Bird, which its editor bought thinking that it was nonfiction. Most of his novels were assumed, with Kosinski's encouragement, to be autobiographical. Over the years there were also rumors--culminating in a damning Village Voice article in 1982--that they may well have been, in part, ghost-written, even plagiarized. Sloan weighs these charges, finding them more accurate than not, and also chronicles stories of CIA involvement in Kosinski's early career, his adventures in both New York's high society and its S-M underworld, his impressive tenure as president of PEN and the events leading up to his suicide in 1991. Sloan concludes that Kosinski was a brilliant, troubled con man who nonetheless legitimately won his place in literature with his Painted Bird. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
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