Jerzy Kosinski was born in Poland in 1933 to Russian parents who had fled the revolution. He was separated from his family when the Nazis invaded in 1939. For six years he wandered form village to village scorned by East European gypsies who feared his hawk like face and penetrating eyes. He survived German terror by his wits and he was struck dumb from the shock that he underwent from this six-year period of wandering. He was mute from age nine to fourteen.(New Yorker)
Kosinski was later reunited with his family and by the time he was twenty-four, he attained a professorship at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Soon after Kosinski got his job as a professor, he went to America. Within four months of Kosiski s arrival in America, he spoke fluent English and moved on to Columbia University. He soon had a great novelist career. He was earning national awards, was married to a millionaire socialite, was earning huge sums of money for his books and screenplay, and played a small part in a movie. He was truly living the American dream. (Times Mirror Co.)
Kosinski s suicide in 1991 at age fifty-eight shocked the outside world, but didnt surprise many of his friends. Ever since Kosinski had come to the U.S in 1957, he had become known for his spectrum of sociopathic behavior ranging from mere megalomania to brutal sexual coercion, fraud, and plagiarism. Kosinski was a pathological liar and a control freak. Some say he couldnt help his lying because any Jew who lived through the Holocaust had to lie to live. It was in Nazi, Poland that Kosinski became an expert storyteller. (JK; pg. 97)
Kosinski s third novel, Being There, is about a mentally retarded middle aged man named Chance. Chance has always lived in a townhouse where he tended the garden. The only thing he did except tend to the garden, was watch television. A cook named Louis prepared his meals. When the old man who ran the townhouse died, Chance was expelled from the house. He went outside and started to walk down the street when a car belonging to Elizabeth Eve Rand hit him. Elizabeth Eve, or EE, was married to one of the richest men in America and the confidant of presidents. The Rands took Chance into their home where they misheard his name as Chauncey Gardiner. When Chance was asked about his past, he described the only thing he was able to describe. This was the garden where he worked his whole life. Everyone took what he said as a metaphor. As Mr. Rand was dying, chance accompanied EE to a diplomatic reception where his comments were taken as sage commentary. He was invited to appear in a nationwide television show where his garden metaphor reassures the public in a moment of financial crisis. By the end of the book, important power brokers propose Chance as a candidate for vice president.
Kosinski got his idea for Being There in the summer of 1965. His wife Mary took him along to a townhouse in Manhattan to visit a man in his eighties who owned a lot of first-rate old American furniture. Marys mission was to convince the man to will his furniture to the Metropolitan Museum. When Mary went upstairs to see the old man, Kosinski looked around the downstairs of the townhouse. He found a passageway that led to a beautiful garden in the back which was set off from the street by a high wall. In the garden was a well-dressed, middle-aged man who watched a television that could be seen from a window as he spoke to Kosinski.
A few days later, Kosinski ran into the lawyer who was handling the old mans estate and had arranged for Marys visit. The Lawyer at first couldnt recall a man working in the garden and when he did he said that he didnt know his name or anything else about him except that he had lived in the house his entire life. This man became Chance the Gardener in Kosinski s third novel. (JK; pg. 201)
It seems from the surface that the mentally challenged Chance has no resemblance to the quick-witted Kosinski. Yet, there is an underlying correspondence between Kosinski s character, Chance, and Kosinski himself. Both men were without a traceable past. No one really knows about Kosinski s experiences during the Second World War or much about any of his pre-American life. Many believe that his accounts of his childhood are untrue and he made them up for entertainment purposes. The same is true with Chance. Chance is simply a gardener. No one knows where he was born or who his were or anything about him. Chance himself doesnt even know where he was from. All he remembers is the old man, working in the garden and watching television.
Both Chance and Kosinski lived on a tight rope and every minute there was the threat of falling. Chance was not even close to the person he was thought to be. Throughout the whole book the reader is anxious and scared for Chance for there is a fear that at any minute, someone will find out who chance is and everything will be ruined. Kosinski went through his whole life with the fear that the reader feels for chance. Starting with Kosinski s childhood, his life was full of lies. When Kosinski was young, he lied to the Nazis and everyone else who he encountered. He had to hide his Jewish identity and was always afraid of being exposed. When he was older, many believe Kosinski plagiarized others works and required his assistants to sign false releases for him. He was also a pathological liar. Because of these things, he was at risk of being exposed just like he had been in his childhood. (JK; pg. 319-329)
The critic William Gallo wrote for the New York Post that Chauncey Gardiner is the great enigma: a hero of the American media. TV loves him; print pursues him. He is a household face. He is the one everybody is talking about, though nobody knows what HE is talking about. No one knows where he has come from, but everybody knows he has come to money, power and sex. Was he led to all this by the lovely, well-connected wife of a dying Wall Street tycoon? Or is Chauncey Gardiner riding the waves all by himself because, like a TV image, he floated into the world buoyed up by a force he did not see and could not name? Does he know something we don’t? Will he fail? Will he ever be unhappy? Chance is a character dependent on luck.
Being There is one of those rare books, which echoes in the mind long after you have finished it. It will survive as a seminal work of the Seventies.” (New York Post)
Chance is a man without an intellect. He cant even follow a full sentence. Still, Chance is one of the top people of the country and everyone loves him. No one knows who Chance is or where he came from. All types of spy organizations try to figure out who he is but arent successful.
Chance is luck. Everything that comes out of his mouth is garbage and its only luck that his words were mistaken for wisdom. Its luck that his name was heard and he ran into a beautiful rich woman whose husband was dying. The only reason Chance becomes someone great is because this says something about those who we look up to in America. Maybe our celebrities and political leaders are no more than a bunch of idiots who by chance have been hit by a lucky car and are suddenly famous. This is what Kosinski is trying to tell his readers.
James Park Sloan, author of Jerzy Kosinski wrote that In the novel Being There, Kosinski created a nonexistent character name Chance. Through Chance Kosinski satirized the people of the high class, the power elite. The categories of people that Kosinski puts down are the people of male and female gender that are of some prominence. He puts down the general high-class people, the diplomats, the industrialists, and most importantly the president.(JK; 218)
Chance is a person whom Kosinski created that has no background. He is mentally disabled. How, you might ask, was it that Chance became someone of importance? Everything that happens in the novel is based on what people think should happen. Chance becoming a prominent man from the start because he was wearing a business suit that belonged to the old man. His appearance made people think that he was wealthy and smart.
Kosinski satirized the industrialists of our world. He satirized the industrialists through the eyes of Benjamin Rand. After Elizabeth Eve took Chance home, Chance was introduced to Ben (EE’s husband). At dinner they talked about businesses. Chance chose to behave in a way that he saw in a “television program of a young businessman who often dined with his boss and the boss’s daughter”. This way of acting made Ben think that Chance was a businesses man. Ben liked Chance because Chance was very humble, and because he didnt talk unless he was spoken to. Chance told the Rands about the garden, which he planted, and Ben interpreted it as something that had to do with business. Chance said, “It is not easy, sir, to obtain a suitable place, a garden, in which one can work without interference and grow with the season…. I’ve never seen a garden. I’ve seen forests and jungles and sometimes a tree or two. But a garden is which I can work and watch the things I’ve planted in it grow…” Ben replied to Chance, “A person who makes a flinty soil productive with the labor of his own hands, who waters it with the sweat of his own brow, and who creates a place of value for his family and for the community. Yes, Chauncey (Chance), what an excellent metaphor! A productive businessman is indeed a laborer in his own vineyard!” (BT 34) Chance does not understand what Ben is talking about. The only thing that he knows of is the garden, and Ben interpreted the conversation as a business conversation. Here Kosinski shows that people interpret the words they want to hear from what other people say.
Jerzy Kosinski satirizes the president. Benjamin Rand introduced chance to the President of The United States. When Chance talked to the President he only talked of the garden but the President interpreted his words as something of importance. The reason being that Ben is one of the President’s friends and before the conversation taken place Ben told the President that Chance was a very inspiring young man. Chance only knows about the garden and nothing else. When the President asked Chance about the economy, he phrased his words in such a way that Chance interpreted as if the President was asking about the garden. The President asked “… What do you think about the bad season on The Street?” Chance replied, “In a garden, growth has its season…. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well.” The President interpreted the words how he wanted to hear and he replied, “that what you’ve just said is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time.” The president later quoted Chance’s words in his speech.
Kosinski also satirized the general high-class people. He hinted that that the high-class people have no clue about what is actually going on in the world. They are so engaged in themselves that they forget about others. The high-class people flow with general trend. They follow other people in their crowd. The high-class people read newspapers and magazines that they think will be able to enhance their knowledge of what is going out in the world. One example of that is what Elizabeth Eve’s friend, Sophie, told about Chance. She said, “You look even handsomer than your photographs, and I must say I agree with Women’s Wear Daily- you’re obviously one of the best-dressed businessmen today….” (BT 85) Another example is when Chance was asked to write a book for Stiegler. Stiegler asked whether or not Chance was interested in writing a book for them because Chance had talked to the President previously and Stiegler wanted the view that Chance has of the White House and how is it different from others. Stiegler never knew anything about Chance yet; he is willing to pay six-figures in advance for the books. (BT 86) Stiegler only wanted Chance to write a book for him because Chance was famous.
Kosinski also satirizes the diplomats in this book. One example of that is when Chance talked to the Ambassador at the United Nations fete. Chance and the Ambassador started a conversation about the businessmen and the diplomats. The Ambassador wanted to know more about Chance because he is one of the most prominent men in The United States (after all even the President referred to him in his speech). Chance didnt know that when the Ambassador told him that “We are not so far form each other, not so far!” that the Ambassador meant the relationship between diplomats and business men. So he replied, “We are not, Our chairs are almost touching.” Ambassador thought that Chance understood what he was talking about and he replied, “Our chairs are indeed almost touching! We both want to remain seated on them, don’t we…” No one bothered to notice that chance was taking everything literally. They were to absorbed in listening to what they wanted to hear.
Pinball, Kosinski s eighth novel, is set in the world of music. It is about a man named Domostroy who used to be a famous musical artist. When the book started out, Domostroy was just a middle-aged former star whose music and fame have been forgotten. He has been performing at a jazz club. He ran into a woman at the club named Andrea Gwynplaine who claimed to be a fan of Domostroy s music and asked him if hed do her a favor in exchange for her love and some money. Domostroy agreed. The favor she asked of him was to unmask the singer known as Goddard. Goddard was the worlds best kept secret. He was a young singer who was extremely rich and his songs have topped the charts for the past few years. No one knew who Goddard was. His identity was so well hidden that even his immediate family didnt know who he was. Andrea was obsessed with him and was determined to uncover his identity. Domostroy helped Andrea. He thought back to when he was famous and thought about what different fans did to catch his attention. He remembered a fan that wrote him a series of letters that contained deep insights into Domostroy s music. She had been able to uncover things about him that no one else knew. Domostroy decided to try a similar tactic with Goddard. He sat and listened deeply to Goddard s music and analyzed it in a letter he wrote to Goddard. He sent many more such letters. He pretended to be Andrea in the letters. As Domostroy had hoped, Goddard, whose real name was Jimmy Osten, tried to track down Andrea. Goddard didnt tell Andrea who he was, but she was able to figure it out anyway without him knowing. Andrea then gave Osten lots of cocaine until he was extremely high. Andrea then got Osten to tell her his bank codes and any other financial information she wanted from him. Then she and a man who helped her with her endeavor led Osten to Domostroy s home in South Bronx and held guns to both Osten and Domostroys heads. Fortunately for both Osten and Domostroy, a group of gang members who Domostroy paid monthly to protect him, showed up at the right moment and shot Andrea and the man who was helping her.
Pinball is filled with teasing allusions to Kosinskis own life. For example, Domostroy drank rum and coke drinks. Kosinski also drank rum and coke after his doctor advised him that it would calm his nerves. The woman with whom Jimmy Osten had an affair with in the book was Leila Salem. This name sounds similar to Lilla van Saher, a woman with whom Kosinski had an affair. Also, a music award in the book was called the Elisabeth Weinreich-Levinkopf Piano Prize. Elisabeth Weinreich-Levinkopf was the name of Kosinskis mother who was a concert pianist. (JK; pg. 370-375)
Pinball is a novel about divided personality and disclosure. It reveals a lot about Kosinskis mental state. One might see Jimmy Osten as a foil of Domostroy. Osten is the young musician and Domostroy is the old one. The rock star status is connected to Kosinskis role as an actor, screenwriter, and celebrity which has been taking flight just as Kosinskis writing career was being overtaken by self-doubt. Domostroy is the inner Kosinski who is dying from a sense of hollowness, while Goddard/Osten is sailing through a slightly different creative universe and must avoid disclosure at all costs. The conflicting personalities of Goddard and Domostroy are in conflict within Kosinskis life. Its between his high-flying surface and his imploding inner being. (JK; pg. 375-377)
Kevin Lauderdale wrote for Amazon Book Review, What is the obligation of an artist to his audience? Pinball is a surreal, intense meditation on the relationship of art to the artists that produce it, and the relationship of artists to their audience.
Reportedly written in response to John Lennon’s assassination, Pinball is the story of an obsessive fan’s search for the world’s most popular rock star, the mysterious Goddard. Goddard does not perform in public; no one has ever seen him, no one knows who he really is. Andrea, the obsessed fan, seduces has-been classical pianist Patrick Domostroy to help her in the search. As the search develops, Domostroy wonders about its true motivation, and begins to understand that the revelation will inevitably be a disappointment. It’s the art that matters, not the artist — but he does not know what Andrea has planned for Goddard once she finds him.
Occasionally overwritten and melodramatic, Pinball nevertheless exerts an almost hypnotic spell on a first-time reader. Domostroy’s search takes him from sex clubs to society parties, all of which are acutely observed, as is the character of Domostroy himself.
Domostroy is the novel’s most fully developed character; others appear more as archetypes than as real people. This is only appropriate, however, when one considers Pinball as an allegory, a fable similar to the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Pinball repays multiple readings, and lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned. ( Amazon Book Review)
There are major similarities between Goddard and former rock star John Lennon. Mark David Chapman, a drifter who had gotten Lennons autograph just a few hours earlier, fatally shot him just outside his New York apartment building. Chapman, like Andrea was an obsessed fan. One difference between Chapman and Andrea is that Andrea didnt succeed in killing Goddard while Chapman was successful in killing Lennon. Another difference is that Andreas motive for attempting to kill Goddard was to get his money while Chapmans motives are unclear. It is very possible that there is a connection between Pinball and Lennons death for Kosinski started to work on Pinball only a few months after Lennons assassination.
Domostroy was Pinballs most fully developed character and its very possible that this story was an allegory similar to the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. In the fable, there is a wife and her husband who have a goose that lays golden eggs. The wife and her husband become irritated because the goose can only lay one egg at a time. Therefore, they decide to cut the goose open so that they can get all of the golden eggs all at once. Unfortunately for the poor couple, when they cut open the goose they find no golden eggs and the goose is now dead.
The couple in the story became so overcome by greed that they didnt realize that what they had already was good because they could only think about how they wanted more. Both Andrea and Jimmy Osten are similar to the couple in the fable. Andrea is a beautiful young woman who comes from a very rich family. She has plenty of friends and money and she is a good student at Julliard, a school for music. Andrea is not satisfied with what she has and yearns for more. She wants to find out who Goddard is and steal all his money. Just when she has almost fulfilled her dream, she is shot, and left without even her life.
Osten, too, let his greed get the better of him. He was fulfilling the dream which he had worked so hard to fulfill. He was a super-rich super-star and no one knew who he was. He could have had any girl he wanted, yet he chose the, mysterious girl in whom he thought sent him the letters. He fell for Andreas trap and was almost killed for it.
Both Being There and Pinball are wonderful novels that satirize human beings. They both teach important lessons and echo in the mind far after they are put down.