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May 10, 1991 - Image 11

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-05-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I UP FRONT

This Story Pays Tribute
To Jerzy Kosinski's Life

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM

Assistant Editor

T

hree years ago this
week I received the se-
cond of two curious
letters from Jerzy Kosinski.
In the first, he sent a story
he'd written called
"Chantal," which tells of a
young girl who hopes to in-
spire a famous writer. In the
second letter, he sent me an-
other original piece, "Death
in Cannes," the story of his
friendship with Jacques
Monod. They included no
notes of explanation.
I didn't like "Chantal."
And I've yet to make up my
mind about "Death in
Cannes," which tells of au-
thor Jacques Monod's final
days. "Farewell, my dear
boy!" Monod says to Kosin-
ski when they part for the
last time. Mr. Kosinski
imagines his friend consider-
ing the history of his life,
smiling as he looks into the
eyes of death.
I wonder what Jerzy
Kosinski was considering
when he killed himself last
week. He reportedly was
depressed over longstanding
heart trouble that hindered
his writing, concerned that
as his health deteriorated he

would become a burden to
his family. So the author of
The Painted Bird and Being
There put a plastic bag over
his head. He was 57. It had
been a life more horrific,
more dramatic, stranger
even than his novels, books
that never failed to give me
nightmares.
I met Jerzy Kosinski just
once. He came to Albion,
where he received an
honorary degree from Albion
College. When I heard he
would be in Michigan, I was

My story ended up
a paint-by-number
picture of the
author. There was
an outline and
some idea of what
was there, but
nothing complete.

determined to get an inter-
view. In what I was certain
was a miracle, he readily
agreed.
Dutifully, I reviewed Mr.
Kosinski's books before leav-
ing for Albion. But I couldn't
read The Painted Bird
again. Though the author
always denied it, most
believe the novel, which tells

of a young boy's terrible
adventures in the coun-
tryside of Nazi-occupied
Poland, parallels Mr. Kosin-
ski's own life. Born in Lodz,
he was sent at age 6 into the
Polish fields to escape
Hitler's army. In one scene
in The Painted Bird, a peas-
ant boy's eyes are popped out
with a spoon.
Mr. Kosinski was staying
in a cottage on the Albion
campus, reserved I'm sure
for visiting writers and
scholars-in-residence. I
walked in, introduced myself
and he held out his hand.
"Jerzy Kosinski," he said.
As though I didn't know. As
though I hadn't been think-
ing for weeks about this very
moment, like some
lovestruck teen-age fan of a
rock star.
He was a bird-like man,
delicate, articulate,
thoughtful and polite. He
liked questions he could an-
swer with careful detail.
When I asked about his
system of writing, he went
on and on about how he
wrote in the morning and
used a certain typewriter.
He was less pleased by
queries that attempted to
draw parallels between his
life and work.
"They're not connected to

there was a memo topped by
a sticker with a crazy face.
"That's just for fun," he
said.
Also included in the port-
folio were articles about the
Holocaust, photocopies of the
cover of The Painted Bird
and photographs of Kosinski
from his 1988 trip to Poland.
In one picture, he wears a
kippah and sits outside a
small synagogue.
Ultimately, I was disap-
pointed with my story about
him. How could I begin to
write an article about such a
complex man with only an
hour-long interview to guide
me? My story ended up a
paint-by-number picture of
the author. There was an
outline and some idea of
what was there, but nothing
complete.
Still, I sent Mr. Kosinski a
copy of the story, as he had
requested. And he was polite
enough to write back and
send those two stories that
continue to confuse me to
this day.
It is a privilege to be a
reporter. It means meeting
men and women from every
sphere of life who in the time
they spend with a writer
generally tell the most
remarkable things. Secrets,
forgotten dreams and horri-
ble pain are all revealed in
those brief moments.
Jerzy Kosinski did not
grant me the privilege of any
great revelations, but I will
never forget the hour I spent

.

Jerzy Kosinski:
Tribute to life.

my life, but rather to my
imagination," he said of his
writings.
Despite my careful prepa-
ration and a lengthy list of
questions I hoped would be
interesting, it was a difficult
interview for me. I think I
must have looked up at least
15 times that first half hour
and thought to myself,
"Here I am, sitting across
from Jerzy Kosinski." It was
overwhelming, and my pri-
vate fawning marred my
ability to take notes.
What I remember best was
his thick black notebook in
which he compiled ideas and
story outlines. Fully de-
veloped ideas were marked
with yellow neon stickers.
Other papers bore green
stickers (he wouldn't tell me
what these meant). And then

ROUND UP

"Friendly" Notes
Aren't So Friendly

Consumers, beware! A
number of Jewish seniors in
the Detroit area have com-
plained of receiving ques-
tionable advertising promo-
tions that appear to include
notes from friends.
"Joanne, these really
work. Try them! From, J."
reads one note attached to
an advertisement for a pair
of glasses that supposedly
improve vision. Joanne, the
woman who received the
letter, knew no "J." Her
name had simply been pick-
ed at random by the com-
pany selling the glasses. But
she says the appearance of
the handwritten note, using
her first name, made her
think at first that the note
was in fact from a friend.
Burt Lindeman, a syn-
dicated columnist, recently
wrote about the large
number of mail scams
directed toward the elderly.
Speaking of the adver-

tisements included with the
notes, Mr. Lindeman said,
"These clippings almost
always promote some ques-
tionable health product."

They Had Visions
Of Jewish Video

Cleveland (JTA) — Jewish
culture hit the small screen
when Jewish Video Visions
(JVV), the nation's only ex-
clusively Jewish video ren-
tal outlet, started operations
in Cleveland last year.
The nonprofit project, the
brainchild of the Cleveland
Bureau of Jewish Educa-
tion's Ratner Media Center,
is open six days a week at
the Mandel Jewish Com-
munity Center.
The center provides
audiovisual material to 26
Jewish schools in greater
Cleveland. It offers adven-
ture films, children's fare,
dramas, comedies, documen-
taries, Hebrew stories, holi-
day tales and how-to pro-
grams, many of them hard to

"Gefilte Ricks" was a reject. So
was "Metro Golda Meir."

obtain. A favorite among
children is "Shalom
Sesame," the Israeli series
patterned after "Sesame
Street."
By bringing Jewish cul-
ture into the living room,
JVV Co-chairman Michael
Slomak said, the service can
serve to increase "the
family's ability to transmit
Jewish culture from one ge-
neration to another."
Before the project opened,
the sponsors held a naming
contest. Among the 200 en-
tries were "Yentl Rental,"
"Vos is Video," "Metro

Golda Meir" and "Gefilte
Flicks."
"We chose Jewish Video
Visions because we thought
we could live with it a little
longer," said Earl Lefkovitz,
director of the Ratner Media
Center.

Semitism, the Middle East
peace process, endangered
Jewish communities and the
prosecution of Nazi war
criminals.

Soviet Jews
Join WJCongress

Damascus — Coca-Cola
and nine other companies
have been removed from the
Arab League's Boycott of
Israel Office.
Established in the 1950s,
the Arab League's office was
created to discourage inter-
national companies from do-
ing business in Israel or in
any way economically sup-
porting the country.
Among the organizations
the office removed from the
boycott list were the J.B.
Williams Company and
Helene Curtis International,
in addition to Coke, which
has maintained a longstan-
ding policy of selling its pro-
ducts in Israel.

New York — For the first
time, the Jewish community
in the Soviet Union is being
represented in the World
Jewish Congress as Jewish
delegates from 70 countries
gather in Jerusalem this
week for the 9th global
assembly of the interna-
tional Jewish organization.
The Va'ad, the repreSent-
ative body of Soviet Jews,
will be formally admitted
into the WJC, marking the
entry of the last major corn-
munity outside the ranks of
world Jewry.
The WJC Assembly will
discuss issues affecting Jews
throughout the world, focus-
ing on the questions of anti-

Arab Boycott
Removes Coke

Compiled by
Elizabeth Applebaum

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

11

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