A Prince of Our Disorder

"Very few care for beauty; but anyone can be interested in gossip."
—C.S. Lewis

In 1982 The Village Voice published an article accusing the famous Polish emigre writer Jerzy Kosinski of being a fraud. The authors (Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont-Smith) argued that Kosinski's novels had all received extensive and unacknowledged "help" from various editorial assistants; that Kosinski's most famous novel, The Painted Bird (1965), had probably been published under false pretenses, at a time when Kosinski could not even write English; and that Kosinski's earliest books, hostile nonfiction accounts of life in the Soviet Union, had perhaps been written for him by agents of the CIA. The thesis of Stokes and Fremont-Smith was that once The Painted Bird became a big literary success, Kosinski became permanently "trapped" in the public persona of a writer—and a writer in English, to boot—and that he was thereafter forced to publish more novels (with necessary professional help) in order to maintain the basically fraudulent image he had acquired. It is not clear why this story should ever have received any credence. Though the article was termed "meticulously researched" (if fundamentally misguided) by The Washington Post as late as this year, it was, in fact, based on the word of witnesses who suddenly reneged on crucial...

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