cover image Jerzy


Jerome Charyn. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-942658-14-6

Charyn (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson) peels back the layers of myth and artifice built up by chameleon-like Polish-American novelist Jerzy Kosinski, author of The Painted Bird and Being There. A World War II survivor and international icon, Kosinski was a celebrated and controversial writer who rose to prominence in the 1960s only to crumble under the weight of his lies and accusations of plagiarism. To unravel Kosinski’s story, Charyn begins at the end and works his way backward through Kosinski’s life. He uses four main characters—an assistant to Peter Sellers, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, an alcoholic socialite, and eventually Kosinski himself—to highlight the many ways Kosinski reinvented himself in order to climb the social ladder throughout his life. The narrative is passed from person to person like a relay race, with Kosinski always on the periphery of another, larger story being told. Charyn’s clever novel underscores the sense that Kosinski was a man impossible to nail down, given to wild changes in personality and appearance depending on his own wealth, desires, and mood. Through triangulating voices and stories, Charyn manages to get close to the truth, and does so with beautiful, spare prose. (Mar.)