Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) was the secretive yet celebrated author of Being There and The Painted Bird, an oeuvre as contradictory as the man himself. While the former was a lighthearted tale about a hapless gardener turned political pundit, the latter was a dark allegory about the moral destruction of World War II that drew on his experience as a Jew hiding from the Nazis in Poland. Kosinski was an author weighed down by accusations of plagiarism who nevertheless enjoyed fame, befriending movie stars and appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

In Jerzy, Jerome Charyn (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson) offers a fictionalized biography of Kosinski told through the voices of people who knew him over the course of his career, revealing the many shades of his persona. It is a minimalist and unsentimental story of an elusive, larger-than-life character.

Charyn takes poetic liberties with some of the holes in Kosinski's real life. In the novel's first vignette, Kosinski resists Peter Sellers's attempts to play the main character in the film adaptation of Being There, until finally he relents and sees his character taken from him. In another, he dates Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, slowly turning her into a character he can use in a story about his liberation at the hands of the Red Army. 

In Jerzy, Kosinski can't seem to forgive himself for using true events as inspiration for his greatest work of fiction. But, in Charyn's hands, Kosinski the man is vindicated, proving that life is itself a work of art. --Josh Potter

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