Biography of American Writer Jerzy Kosinski

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Jerzy Kosinski, born in Poland in 1933 to Russian parents who had fled the revolution, was separated from his family during the Nazi invasion in 1939. For six years, he wandered from village to village, facing scorn from East European gypsies who were afraid of his hawk-like face and penetrating eyes. Surviving the German terror through his intelligence, Kosinski was left speechless by the shock of his prolonged period of wandering.

Kosinski experienced a period of not being able to speak from the age of nine until he was fourteen (New Yorker). After reuniting with his family, he became a professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw by the time he turned twenty-four. Soon after, Kosinski moved to America where he quickly became fluent in English and enrolled at Columbia University. He swiftly established himself as a successful novelist, earning national recognition and marrying into wealth. In addition to his writing career, Kosinski also made money through his books and screenplay, even appearing in a minor role in a film. His life truly embodied the American dream (Times Mirror Co.).

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Despite the shocking nature of Kosinski’s suicide in 1991 at the age of fifty-eight, many of his friends were not surprised. From the time Kosinski arrived in the United States in 1957, he had cultivated a reputation for engaging in various sociopathic behaviors such as megalomania, brutal sexual coercion, fraud, and plagiarism. His inclination to lie pathologically and desire for control were prominent traits. Some argue that his tendency to lie stemmed from the survival instincts that Jews who experienced the Holocaust had to adopt. Kosinski honed his storytelling skills during his time in Nazi-occupied Poland, eventually becoming an expert (JK; pg. 97). In “Being There,” Kosinski’s third novel revolves around Chance, a mentally challenged middle-aged man.

Chance has always lived in a townhouse, tending to the garden and watching television. Louis, the cook, prepared his meals. After the death of the townhouse owner, Chance was expelled and hit by a car belonging to Elizabeth Eve Rand, who was married to a wealthy man and had strong connections. The Rands brought Chance into their home and mistakenly called him Chauncey Gardiner. When asked about his past, Chance only described his lifelong work in the garden, which everyone interpreted as a metaphor. As Mr. Rand was dying, Chance accompanied EE to a diplomatic reception where his comments were seen as wise remarks. He was then invited to a nationwide television show where his garden metaphor reassured the public during a financial crisis. Eventually, powerful individuals proposed Chance as a vice presidential candidate.

In the summer of 1965, Kosinski got the idea for Being There when he went with his wife Mary to a townhouse in Manhattan. They were there to see an elderly man who had a remarkable collection of old American furniture. Mary wanted to convince him to leave his furniture to the Metropolitan Museum.

While Mary met with the old man upstairs, Kosinski explored the downstairs area of the townhouse and found a passage that led to a beautiful garden at the back. The garden was surrounded by a high wall that separated it from the street.

Inside the garden, Kosinski met a well-dressed middle-aged man who was watching TV through a window and talked with him. A few days later, Kosinski ran into the lawyer who was handling the old man’s estate and had arranged Mary’s visit.

The Lawyer initially couldn’t remember a man working in the garden. Eventually, he mentioned that he didn’t know the man’s name or anything else about him, except that he had lived in the house his whole life. This man later became Chance the Gardener in Kosinski’s third novel (JK; pg. 201). Although Chance, who is mentally challenged, seems completely different from the quick-witted Kosinski on the surface, there is an underlying similarity between Kosinski’s character, Chance, and Kosinski himself. Both men lacked a verifiable past. Not much is known about Kosinski’s experiences during World War II or his life before coming to America. Many suspect that his childhood stories are fabricated for entertainment purposes.

Chance, similar to the previous example, is also just a gardener with a mysterious background. His birthplace, family, and any other personal information remain unknown to everyone, including himself. All that Chance can recall is his time spent working in the garden and watching TV alongside an old man.

Both Chance and Kosinski lived in constant fear of being exposed. Throughout the book, the reader feels anxious for Chance, fearing that his true identity will be discovered and everything will be destroyed. Similarly, Kosinski lived his entire life with the same kind of fear. From his childhood, he had to deceive the Nazis and anyone else he encountered, hiding his Jewish identity and always worried about being discovered. As he grew older, there were accusations that Kosinski plagiarized other people’s works and made his assistants sign false releases on his behalf.

According to JK (pg. 319-329), he was a pathological liar and faced the risk of exposure, just like in his childhood. William Gallo, a critic for the New York Post, views Chauncey Gardiner as a fascinating enigma – a hero of the American media who is adored by TV but pursued by print. Despite being a household name, no one understands what he talks about or his origins. However, it is widely known that he has acquired wealth, power, and sexual relationships. It remains unclear whether he was led into this world by the well-connected wife of a dying Wall Street tycoon or if he independently surfed the waves of success. Perhaps like a TV image, he entered this world without noticing the force that propelled him. Does he possess knowledge hidden from us? Will he fail or ever experience unhappiness? Chance, the character, heavily relies on luck.

“Being There” is a remarkable book that will have a lasting impact on readers, as noted by the New York Post. It is considered an influential work from the 1970s. Despite his limited intelligence and difficulty understanding complete sentences, Chance is deeply respected and loved by all in the nation. His true identity and background remain unknown, despite numerous failed attempts by various spy agencies to uncover them.

Chance is luck. All that emerges from his mouth is rubbish, and it’s only by sheer luck that his words were misinterpreted as wisdom. It is mere chance that his name was overheard, and he happened to encounter an exquisite affluent woman whose spouse was nearing death. The sole reason Chance manages to attain greatness is because it speaks volumes about those whom we idolize in America. Perhaps our celebrities and political leaders are nothing more than a group of imbeciles who, by chance, were struck by a fortuitous vehicle and consequently became famous. This is the message Kosinski endeavors to deliver to his readers.

According to James Park Sloan, Jerzy Kosinski, the author of Being There, used the character Chance to satirize high-class individuals such as the power elite. In the novel, Chance, a mentally disabled individual with no background, gains importance based on the expectations of other people. Kosinski targets various categories of prominent individuals including both genders, high-class individuals, diplomats, industrialists, and notably the president (JK; 218).

Chance immediately gained prominence due to his attire – a business suit owned by the elderly man – which created an impression of wealth and intelligence. Kosinski effectively used Benjamin Rand’s perspective to satirize industrialists in our society. Once Chance accompanied Elizabeth Eve to her home, he was introduced to her husband, Ben. During dinner, the conversation revolved around business matters. Chance purposefully adopted the demeanor of a young businessman from a popular television show, wherein he often dined with his boss and the boss’s daughter. This behavior led Ben to believe that Chance was indeed a businessman himself. Ben appreciated Chance’s humility and reticence unless directly addressed, further endearing him to Ben.

Chance informed the Rands about the garden he had planted, while Ben perceived it as pertaining to business. Chance explained, “It is quite challenging, sir, to acquire a suitable spot, a garden, where one can diligently work and witness the growth of the planted elements as the seasons pass… I have never witnessed a garden before. I have seen forests and jungles, occasionally a tree or two. Yet, a garden is where I can toil and observe the growth of what I have sown…” In response, Ben stated, “An individual who makes unyielding soil fruitful through their personal labor, who irrigates it through their own perspiration, and who establishes a valuable space for their family and the community. Indeed, Chauncey (Chance), what a magnificent metaphor! A productive entrepreneur is undoubtedly a laborer in their own vineyard!” (BT 34) Chance did not comprehend Ben’s point. The only thing he comprehended was the concept of the garden, while Ben interpreted their conversation in terms of business. Kosinski illustrates how people interpret words based on what they desire to hear from others.

Jerzy Kosinski satirizes the president. Benjamin Rand introduced chance to the President of The United States. When Chance talked to the President he only talked of the garden but the President interpreted his words as something of importance. The reason being that Ben is one of the President’s friends and before the conversation taken place Ben told the President that Chance was a very inspiring young man. Chance only knows about the garden and nothing else. When the President asked Chance about the economy, he phrased his words in such a way that Chance interpreted as if the President was asking about the garden.

The President asked what Chance thought about the bad season on The Street. Chance responded with a metaphor about growth in a garden and the importance of preserving roots. The President interpreted Chance’s words positively and praised them as refreshing and optimistic. Later, the President quoted Chance’s words in a speech. Kosinski also satirized the ignorance of high-class people, suggesting that they are disconnected from reality and only focused on themselves. These individuals mindlessly follow trends and the opinions of others in their social circle.

Well-educated individuals from high social strata consume newspapers and magazines in order to stay informed about global affairs. For instance, Elizabeth Eve’s acquaintance, Sophie, remarked on Chance’s appearance, stating, “You appear more attractive than your pictures, and I must admit I concur with the assessment given by Women’s Wear Daily – you are undeniably one of the most fashionable businessmen of our time…” (BT 85).

Chance is approached by Stiegler, who asks if he would be interested in writing a book. Stiegler is curious about Chance’s unique perspective of the White House compared to others because Chance had previously conversed with the President. Despite knowing nothing about Chance, Stiegler offers a significant advance payment for the book because of his fame. Kosinski also satirizes diplomats in this narrative, exemplified when Chance discusses businessmen and diplomats with the Ambassador at a United Nations gathering.

The Ambassador showed interest in becoming better acquainted with Chance, who is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the United States (even acknowledged by the President in a speech). However, Chance was unaware that when the Ambassador mentioned, “We are not so far from each other, not so far!” he was actually referring to the connection between diplomats and businessmen. In response, Chance innocently remarked, “Our chairs are almost touching.” The Ambassador believed that Chance understood his intended meaning and responded, “Our chairs are indeed almost touching! We both desire to remain seated on them, don’t we…” Unfortunately, nobody noticed that Chance interpreted everything literally since they were too absorbed in hearing what they wanted to hear.

The novel Pinball by Kosinski centers around the music industry and introduces the protagonist Domostroy, once a well-known musician who is now in his middle age. Despite his past success, Domostroy’s music and celebrity status have been overlooked and forgotten. Currently, he performs at a jazz club where he unexpectedly encounters a woman named Andrea Gwynplaine. Andrea professes her admiration for Domostroy’s music and offers him love and financial assistance in exchange for a favor.

Domostroy agreed to help Andrea fulfill her favor: to reveal the true identity of the enigmatic singer known as Goddard. Goddard, who had topped the charts for several years, remained a mystery to everyone, including his own family. Intrigued by his music, Andrea became obsessed with uncovering his secret. To assist Andrea in her quest, Domostroy recalled his own experience with devoted fans and how they would go to great lengths to capture his attention. Among those fans was an individual who wrote a series of heartfelt letters that contained profound insights into Domostroy’s artistry, revealing unknown aspects about him.

Domostroy attempted the same strategy with Goddard by attentively immersing himself in Goddard’s music and evaluating it in a letter addressed to Goddard. Subsequently, Domostroy proceeded to send numerous similar letters, adopting the guise of Andrea in these correspondences.

Domostroy’s intention was fulfilled when Goddard, known as Jimmy Osten, attempted to locate Andrea. Despite Goddard withholding his true identity, Andrea astutely discovered it on her own. Utilizing drugs, Andrea induced an intense state of intoxication in Osten. Subsequently, she coerced Osten into divulging his bank codes and various financial details. Accompanied by an accomplice, Andrea proceeded to bring Osten to Domostroy’s residence in South Bronx, holding the two at gunpoint. Thankfully, Osten and Domostroy were saved from harm by a contingent of gang members, regularly compensated by Domostroy for protection, who arrived in the nick of time and eliminated both Andrea and her accomplice.

Pinball by Kosinski contains numerous references to the author’s personal life. For example, in the novel, Domostroy drinks rum and coke, just like Kosinski did upon his doctor’s recommendation to calm his nerves. The affair Jimmy Osten had in the book was with a woman named Leila Salem, which bears similarity to Kosinski’s affair with Lilla van Saher. Moreover, the book features a music award named the Elisabeth Weinreich-Levinkopf Piano Prize, which was named after Kosinski’s mother who was a renowned concert pianist. These allusions provide insights into Kosinski’s own experiences. Pinball explores the concept of divided personality and uncovering secrets, shedding light on Kosinski’s mental state. One can view Domostroy as a contrast to Jimmy Osten, as the former represents an older musician while the latter is a young musician in the novel. (JK; pg. 370-375)

The rock star status of Kosinski is linked to his roles as an actor, screenwriter, and celebrity. This fame has been growing at the same time that Kosinski’s writing career has been plagued by self-doubt. The inner Kosinski, represented by Domostroy, is suffering from a sense of emptiness, while Goddard/Osten represents a slightly different creative realm and must remain hidden. The contrasting personas of Goddard and Domostroy are in conflict within Kosinski’s life. It’s a battle between his glamorous exterior and his collapsing inner self.

In his article for Amazon Book Review, Kevin Lauderdale explores the responsibility an artist has towards their audience. “Pinball” delves into the surreal and intense contemplation on the connection between art and its creators, as well as the bond between artists and their viewers. It is believed that this book was written as a reaction to the tragic assassination of John Lennon. “Pinball” follows the narrative of a devoted fan who embarks on a quest to find the enigmatic Goddard, the world’s most renowned rock star.

Godard is a mysterious figure who remains hidden from public view, and his true identity remains unknown. Andrea, a devoted fan, entices the once-famous pianist Patrick Domostroy to join her in searching for Godard. As the search progresses, Domostroy ponders its underlying motive and begins to realize that the revelation will ultimately be disappointing. The focus should be on the art rather than the artist, although he is unaware of what Andrea plans to do when she finally finds Godard. While Pinball can sometimes be excessively verbose and melodramatic, it captivates first-time readers with its almost hypnotic aura. Domostroy’s quest takes him from sexual establishments to high society gatherings, all of which are keenly observed, including Domostroy’s character. Domostroy is the most fully developed character in the novel, while others seem more like archetypes than actual individuals. Nevertheless, this is fitting as Pinball can be seen as an allegory or fable similar to the tale of the golden egg-laying goose.

Pinball is a book that stays on the mind and leaves an impression even after it has been finished. (Amazon Book Review) The parallelism between Goddard and ex-rockstar John Lennon is significant. Mark David Chapman, a wanderer who had recently obtained Lennon’s autograph, tragically shot him outside of his New York apartment complex. Similar to Andrea, Chapman was a devoted fan. Nevertheless, unlike Andrea, Chapman was able to successfully assassinate Lennon.

Another difference is that Andreas’ motive for attempting to kill Goddard was to get his money, while Chapman’s motives are unclear. It is highly possible that there is a connection between Pinball and Lennon’s death, as Kosinski started working on Pinball shortly after Lennon’s assassination.

Domostroy, Pinballs most developed character, may be an allegory resembling the fable about a goose that lays golden eggs. In that fable, a husband and wife have a goose that lays one golden egg at a time. Annoyed by this, they decide to kill the goose and retrieve all the eggs at once. Sadly, they discover that the goose is empty and lifeless once they cut it open.

The couple in the story became consumed by greed to the point where they failed to appreciate what they already possessed. Their constant desire for more blinded them to the goodness of their current situation. Both Andrea and Jimmy Osten can be compared to the couple in the fable. Andrea, a beautiful young woman from a wealthy background, had an abundance of friends, money, and success as a student at Julliard, a prestigious music school. Despite having so much, she remained unsatisfied and longed for more. Specifically, she aimed to uncover the identity of Goddard and steal his fortune. Just as she was on the verge of achieving her dream, tragedy struck – she was shot and lost everything, even her life.

Osten, too, succumbed to his avarice. He was achieving the desire he had worked diligently to achieve. He was a wealthy and famous individual who remained anonymous. Despite having the ability to choose any woman he desired, he selected the enigmatic girl whom he believed sent him the letters. He fell into Andreas’ trap and narrowly escaped death as a result. Both Being There and Pinball are exceptional novels that mock humanity. They both impart significant lessons that linger in one’s thoughts long after reading them.

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Biography of American Writer Jerzy Kosinski. (2019, Apr 19). Retrieved from

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