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3 Jerzy Kosinski: Did He or Didn't He? HARRY JAMES CARGAS In the June 22, 1982, issue of New York's Village Voice, an article was published by Geoffrey Stokes with Eliot Fremont-Smith under the humorless , ambiguous title "Jerzy Kosinski's Tainted Words"—clearly an ugly play on the novelist's first work of fiction, The Painted Bird. The thesis of the newspaper piece was that Kosinski, an emigrant from Europe, a Jewish Holocaust survivor (having escaped the fate of millions of Polish Jews during World War II, for, it was implied, very mysterious reasons) was not really the author of his books. Stokes and Fremont-Smith claim that Kosinski employed massive aid for his fictional writings and that he refused to acknowledge that he did so, even denying such assistance. They insist that Kosinski's English, as a language, was so rudimentary that he could not have produced The Painted Bird, Cockpit, Pinball, Being There, Blind Date, and so on, without huge amounts of collaboration. Some of these alleged coauthors are quoted in this attack and much of what was said there caused an international literary scandal. I would like to address that scandal. I knew Jerzy Kosinski. I cannot say that we were friends or that I knew him well. In my opinion, I cannot say that anyone knew him well, including himself. We all wear masks, some more self-deluding than others. There is no attempt in this chapter to psychoanalyze Jerzy Kosinski, merely an attempt to deal with the question raised in The Village Voice about authorship. Let me make my position very clear. It seems certain to me from reading and knowing Jerzy Kosinski that his language skills, his wit, and his imaginative abilities were such that he was indeed the creator and writer of his fictional works. The charges against him do not hold up and have a boomerang effect of casting doubts on the investigative report of Stokes and Fremont-Smith and on those who accept their attack. 43 44 HARRY JAMES CARGAS The first time I saw Jerzy Kosinski was on May 27, 1975, at the annual dinner of the American PEN Center. (PEN, by the way, was not intended by its founders to stand for Poets, Essayists, Novelists —it's just PEN, the international writers' organization.) At the hotel meal were prominent PEN members like Arthur Miller, Muriel Rukeyser, Kurt Vonnegut, Alvin Toffler, and several hundred others. The speaker and honoree was President Leopold Sedar Senghor, of Senegal, cofounder with Leon Damas and Aime Cesaire of the movement of negritude (roughly equivalent to "black is beautiful") and one of the world's most influential poets. Kosinski, the head of American PEN, presided. President Senghor had written an Easter poem for a Catholic magazine that I edited in St. Louis. He was a writer and statesman whom I had admired for some time. I had gotten financial assistance for my trip to New York, and the occasion was clearly not a disappointment. Kosinski made a few humorous remarks before introducing the guest of honor. I recall one story in particular. He told how, when walking into the Plaza Hotel with the president and the entourage that he, Kosinski, had been mistaken for a bellboy with his light blue suit and was asked to carry in some luggage. He pretended to fill that role, he told the audience, "and I got a pretty good tip." We were all amused. Sometime afterward, Kurt Vonnegut told me not to take any story of Kosinski's at face value. It might or might not be true. It was my first encounter with statements that Kosinski was to make to me over the years that proved to have been false. I know other writers who have told me fictional things about themselves, but often those people had come to believe their imaginations and so in some sense were perhaps not actually lying. I believe that much of what Kosinski told me in our conversations had little—even no—root in reality. I think he knew the untruth to be untrue. Why did he do it? I do not know. I can speculate on how much his misadventures caused by the Nazi invasion of Poland impacted him mentally. But these thoughts would merely be speculations and, in a real sense, who cares about my judgment? But Jerzy Kosinski has shared a great deal of truth in his fiction — it being in a different order of truth...


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