Jerzy Nikodem Kosinski was born in Lodz, Poland on June 14th, 1933.
At the beginning of World War II, his father carefully invented a Gentile identity that allowed his family to survive the Holocaust - and Jerzy Kosinski, a Jewish child, was sent away by his parents during World War II in order to escape the Nazi brutality.
At the age of nine, J. Kosinski wandered for more than six years through several villages throughout the war and was scorned by East European gypsies who feared his hawklike face and his penetrating eyes.
Reunited with his parents after the war, at the age of fifteen, J. Kosinski returned to school and received degrees in history and political science from the University of Lodz in the mid-1950s. Moreover, he became an expert skier.
After studying in the Soviet Union he emigrated to the United States - he arrived in New York on Dec. 20, 1957 with a Polish passport and only 3,80 Dollar in his pocket.
Within four months J. Kosinski spoke fluent English and was able to write his works in this language; he taught himself by memorizing words from a Russian-English dictionary, repeatedly viewing movies, and memorizing poems by Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe.
J. Kosinski catapulted to fame in 1965 with ´The Painted Bird´, a mythic story about a hideous childhood in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. ´Steps´ - rewarded with the National Book Award - which deals with cultural manipulation of human beings.
Two other well-known novels are ´Being There´ (1971) and ´The Devil Tree´ (1973).
J. Kosinski died on May 3, 1991, in New York City. He commited suicide.
Chance, the main person in this book, is an orphan and the Old Man, a millionaire with a large estate, has sheltered him in his house ever since Chance was a child.
Because the Old Man thinks that Chance´s mind is damaged, Chance´s life is limited to his quarters on the Old Man´s estate and especially to the garden. He has never been outside the house in the streets and his main duty is to take care of the garden and to look after the flowers.
Beside of gardening Chance also likes watching TV; he is nearly keen on TV, because it is his information source of the happenings in the world around him outside in the streets.
After Chance´s benefactors´ death, it comes to a misunderstanding between the lawyers who handle the estate and Chance because he can neither read nor write. Therefore he has got to move out of his room and must leave the estate.
First time out in the street he is surprised by all the cars, buildings and people and doesn´t take care of the traffic until he is suddenly jammed by a car which hurts his leg.
The shocked owner of the car, Elizabeth Eve Rand - in short EE - takes Chance to her home in Washington D.C. (U.S.A.) where a doctor is staying with her because her husband has been very ill.
Until Chance´s recover he is invited by the Rands to stay with them.
One day, when he is having dinner with them, in a discussion he compares Mr. Rand´s business with a garden and the Rands admire him for his statement.
However, this is the only thing he can talk about: gardening, plants and flowers.
Because Mr. Rand is a very well-known, but unfortunately very ill businessman the President of the U S A himself visits him and Chance as a friend is invited, too.
During a discussion between Mr. Rand and the President Chance, now called Chauncy Gardiner, repeats his statement about the garden. The president likes his way of thinking so much that he uses Chance´s idea in a public speech and mentions his name.
Several Days later, Chance has become a public figure. All different newspapers and TV - channels want to have interviews with him and he is also invited to glamorous parties of the high society.
Many things that happen to Chance are incomprehensible to him but he always manages it that nobody notices it. After all a certain kind of distrust comes up, the president and other very high-positioned men want to check Chance´s identity.
However, there cannot be found anything about his former life.
Jerzy Kosinski´s novel ´Being There´ is less than one hundred and thirty (122) pages long, divided in seven chapters and is written in a style, which makes it easy to read - it contains only a few difficult words.
The whole novel is told by an eliminated narrator (point of view), because the setting, action, characters and events are presented directly without the interference of a narrator. Furthermore, all characters, like Chance, Mr. and Mrs. Rand and the President, reveal themselves in the story through their action and speech. Typical of these characters is that they are not described by the author. The reader must create them in his mind himself while reading.
The story can be classified as a fictional one: characters, plot and action are invented.
Jerzy Kosinski mentions at the end of the novel, that everything is invented and certain components like places, names or happenings may be recognizable by the reader within the real world.
Chance, the main character in this novel, whose knowledge of the ´real´ outside world is through watching television, is developing from an unknown civilian to a wealthy and famous man.
This has happened, because everyone who was dealing with him and listened to his empty-headed pronouncements thought, that they would be profoundly intelligent and wisely insightful.
Thus, the whole story of this novel is based on a crazy misunderstanding and could be interpreted as a big joke.
Here are some amusing remarks of Chance, which are interpreted by the President and the Rands as wisely insightful:
. On looking out of a window: " This is just like television, only you can see much further."
. On economics: " . As long as the roots are not severed, all is well, and all will be well in the garden." (p.43/line 11)
. On economics: " . It is a good garden and a healthy one; its trees are healthy and so are its shrubs and flowers, as long as they are trimmed and watered in the right seasons." (p.55/ line 2)
One day at the age of fifteen when I visited a friend in London (England), I felt boring and decided to read a book. Consequently I went to second-hand bookstore and grabbed by chance this novel - I paid only 20p !
When I first began to read, I couldn ´t grasp the story line, but by the time I had read the first two chapters, I couldn ´t put the book down. It really made me think about what it would be like to live in Chance´s situation without any education, friends and parents.
Besides this, I truly recognized that the author, J. Kosinski, wanted to confront the reader with a problem in our modern time: the seduction of multimedia and the endless consumption of mass media in our modern society (pop-music, television, gambling . . .).
During the last chapter of ´Being There´ I decided to watch TV at least less than two hours a day, because I realized the senselessness of watching so much fictional stuff.
But on the other hand you shouldn ´t miss the Movie `Being There` with Peter Seller (Chance) and Shirley Mclaine (Elizabeth Eve Rand).
gentile heidnisch / nichtjüdisch - scorn Verachtung / Spott - gipsy Zigeuner - penetraiting durchdringend / scharfsinnig - fluent fließend - memorize auswendig lernen / memorieren -
orphan Waisenkind - to shelter sb. jdm. eine Unterkunft gewähren - benefactor Wohltäter / Gönner - incomprehensible unbegreiflich / unfassbar - distrust misstrauen
eliminated narrator aussenstehender Erzähler - reveal offenbaren / enthüllen - pronouncement Erklärung / Aussage - profound tiefgründig - insight Einsicht / Einblick / Verständnis - shrub Strauch / Busch - severe hart / verhärtet / rauh
mass media Massenmedien