The Hermit of 69th Streetnby Jerzy KosinskinNew York: Seaver Books (Henry Holtn& Co.); $19.95nIn 1982 The Village Voice publishednan article accusing the famous Polishnemigre writer Jerzy Kosinski of being anfraud. The authors (Geoffrey Stokesnand Eliot Fremont-Smith) argued thatnKosinski’s novels had all received extensivenand unacknowledged “help”nfrom various editorial assistants; thatnKosinski’s most famous novel, ThenPainted Bird (1965), had probablynbeen published under false pretenses,nat a time when Kosinski could not evennwrite English; and that Kosinski’s earliestnbooks, hostile nonfiction accountsnof life in the Soviet Union, had perhapsnbeen written for him by agents ofnthe CIA. The thesis of Stokes andnFremont-Smith was that once ThenPainted Bird became a big literary success,nKosinski became permanentlyn”trapped” in the public persona of anwriter — and a writer in English, tonboot — and that he was thereafternforced to publish more novels (withnnecessary professional help) in order tonmaintain the basically fraudulent imagenhe had acquired. It is not clear whynthis story should ever have received anyncredence. Though the article wasntermed “meticulously researched” (ifnfundamentally misguided) by ThenWashington Post as late as this year, itnwas, in fact, based on the word ofnwitnesses who suddenly reneged onncrucial testimony, or later angrilynclaimed to have been misquoted ornmisinterpreted, and on rumors plantednin the US by the Polish secret police (asnThe New York Times has shown) as farnback as the 1960’s. Moreover, the verynidea that someone would feel son”trapped” in the public persona of anArthur M. Eckstein is professor ofnhistory at the University of Maryland,nand author of Senate and General.nA Prince of Our Disordernby Arthur M. Ecksteinn’Very few care for beauty; but anyone can be interested in gossip.nwriter as then to go on to write sevennmore novels was improbable on itsnface. This is especially true consideringnthe severe risks of exposure Kosinskinwould have faced each and every timenhe published, if he were actually usingnthe fraudulent method of compositionn(via “assistants”) which The VillagenVoice claimed.nThe Village Voice scandal was justnone of those bizarre occurrencesnthat have marked Jerzy Kosinski’s life.nSometimes his luck has been good: henmissed being murdered by the MansonnGang at Sharon Tate’s house in 1969nbecause his luggage got lost on thenplane from Paris to New York; and as anchild, of course, he missed being murderednby the Nazis. But sometimes hisnluck has been bad, as in the suddenndeath (by stroke) of his beloved firstnwife, Mary Weir — or here, with ThenVillage Voice. No wonder that in BeingnThere (1970) he named one of hisnheroes “Ghance”! Nevertheless, then— C.S. LewisnnnVillage Voice scandal damagednKosinski’s reputation, at least momentarily.nNo matter how unfair the originalnarticle, how flimsy its evidence, ornhow transparently political the motivesnof the authors (who clearly believednthat only GIA stooges could want tonwrite books attacking communism), itnwas impossible for Kosinski completelynto defend himselfnThe Hermit of 69th Street is, innmore ways than one, Kosinski’s revenge.nThe new novel is massive, brilliant,noften bitter. The last half centersnon a fictionalized version of the scandalnand its impact. The stand-ins for Stokesnand Fremont-Smith are, naturally,ntreated in an entertainingly savage way:nas smug Stalinoid-Nazi literary goons.nAnd the notorious “editorial assistants”nare transformed into representatives ofna high-priced call-girl service — whosenperformances with Kosinski’s hero, thenhapless and basically innocent writern”Kosky,” give him little satisfactionnindeed. Gonversely, Kosinski evolves anhilarious (but frighteningly selfpunitive)nfantasy in which Kosky, becausenof the scandal, fails to sell even ansingle copy of his new novel anywherenin the world — and loses his beautifulnNew York apartment as well.nBut that is the book, only at onenlevel, the level of the plot. Kosinski hasntaken on The Village Voice and itsnaccusations about his inability to writenEnglish by filling every page of ThenHermit of 69th Street with multiplenpuns, assonance, onomatopoeia —nlinguistic fireworks of all sorts. Kosinskinwas always a stylist: avant-garde, plain,nbaroque, romantic, depending on hisnmood. But here he reveals himself as antrue — even arrogant — master of sophisticatednand elegant English expression.nAnd there is yet another level onnwhich Kosinski satirizes the chargesnconcerning his authorial originality:nhe throws in every possible source fornFEBRUARY 1989/25n