The painted bird - Jerzy Kosiński

The remarkable thing about this catalog of horrors is the naive, straightforward tone it's told in, especially at the start, when the narrator is believably very young. There were a few moments during the story that pulled me away from the narrator's perspective because they were blatantly metaphorical or otherwise didn't ring true, and the author's context-setting prologue is hardly necessary, but by the end it does become a narrative of the development of the character. The use of language is really excellent (Kosinsky had someone to help him with his English when writing this -- unclear how much that person contributed).

We are confronted with scenes of extreme horror here, which the narrator claims (a few too many times) that he was too transfixed to look away from. One of the many animal metaphors is that of a pit full of rats, tearing at each other as they try to climb out, eating each other alive, and unable to escape. Humans here are largely driven by fear and desperation, and kindness is bestowed on a whim and soon withdrawn, and random cruelty is far commoner, mixed with sexual lust that's equally brutal. There's a certain repetitiveness as the author makes this point over and over, but he does contrast a number of different settings, and a number of different ways that the narrator tries to understand and control his surroundings (magic, religion, and Communism being belief systems with their own complex set of rationalizations, and failures). The narrator, growing from 6 to 12 years old, comes to recognize both his need for complete independence and an inescapable urge drawing him to other people.