The Painted Bird describes the evils of war and their effects on a young boy, the narrator who is 6 yrs old when the story opens at the onset of WWII. The innocent, sheltered boy's parents, presumably wealthy Jews, arrange to send away their only child for safekeeping at a Slav village. But due to a series of unfortunate events, the boy finds himself alone and unprotected, as he endures crisis after trauma followed by disaster. With each horror he survives, the boy loses more of his naivete, and eventually even bits of humanity.
In this book, written in 1965, this little boy is exposed to beatings and abuse of just about every variety imaginable, natural disasters from fires to lightning, and a range of the very worst of human nature; he endures misinformation of all kinds (religious, political, and outright lies), being chased and captured, and intense isolation; he is both witness and victim to sickness, injury, torture, sex and sexual depravity, starvation, and animal cruelty.
Miraculously the boy reaches the age of 12 and the war ends. His ordeal, and the outcome are devastating.