Kosinski is a slippery figure to write about, since the facts have gotten mixed up in his fictions. Accusations of plagiarism and dishonesty — and his and others’ defenses against both — have further muddied the waters. But all this confusion is really grist to Charyn’s mill. He’s not trying to tell the story straight ... Jerzy is a novel with a light touch that’s still capable of lifting heavy subjects. Charyn knows what he wants to do and knows how to do it. His prose has some of the rapid-fire but carefully controlled energy of Thomas Pynchon’s early novella The Crying of Lot 49.
His opacity is perhaps appropriate, given that the actual Kosinski was a figure almost lost beneath his layers of imposture, but, as the book goes on, it becomes harder to invest much feeling in someone so maddeningly indeterminate. Often he seems almost like a stock figure, performing the role of Jerzy Kosinski before a credulous audience ... The final section of Charyn’s novel reimagines parts of The Painted Bird as they might actually have taken place—a moving attempt to envision the real wartime traumas that led Kosinski to invent fake ones ... Charyn doesn’t try to provide a definite answer to the crucial question of why Kosinski passed off his most famous book as something it was not, but this last section goes some way toward suggesting why he felt the need to conceal himself behind a mask.
As Charyn, deeply versed in Kosinski’s worlds, reaches back to young Jerzy’s mastering of the art of lying to survive the war, he ultimately portrays a traumatized, desperately masquerading artist 'caught between languages,' identities, and cultures, and between renown and scandal. Daringly imaginative and profoundly insightful.
Kosinki’s is a sad tale; he was a gifted raconteur except on the page in his chosen language, a flaw all the more obvious when conveyed through Charyn’s resourceful imagination and always-colorful, punchy, provocative prose.
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.