Memento Park

by Mark Sarvas

Book, 2018

Barcode

123462022

Call number

FIC SAR

Collections

Publication

New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018

Description

Winner of the 2019 Association of Jewish Libraries Jewish Fiction Award, short-listed for the 2019 JQ Wingate Literary Prize, and a Finalist for the 2019 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature One ofEntertainment Weekly's 20 Books to Read in March and one ofTimeOut's 11 Books You'll Want to Binge-Read This Month A son learns more about his father than he ever could have imagined when a mysterious piece of art is unexpectedly restored to him After receiving an unexpected call from the Australian consulate, Matt Santos becomes aware of a painting that he believes was looted from his family in Hungary during the Second World War. To recover the painting, he must repair his strained relationship with his harshly judgmental father, uncover his family history, and restore his connection to his own Judaism. Along the way to illuminating the mysteries of his past, Matt is torn between his doting girlfriend, Tracy, and his alluring attorney, Rachel, with whom he travels to Budapest to unearth the truth about the painting and, in turn, his family. As his journey progresses, Matt's revelations are accompanied by equally consuming and imaginative meditations on the painting and the painter at the center of his personal drama,Budapest Street Scene by Ervin Kálmán. By the timeMemento Parkreaches its conclusion, Matt's narrative is as much about family history and father-son dynamics as it is about the nature of art itself, and the infinite ways we come to understand ourselves through it. Of all the questions asked by Mark Sarvas'sMemento Park--about family and identity, about art and history--a central, unanswerable predicament lingers: How do we move forward when the past looms unreasonably large?… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Matt Santos is a non-practicing Jew and a first generation American. His father, with whom he has a difficult relationship, immigrated from Hungary in the 1950s. Matt is both surprised and puzzled when he is contacted about a missing painting that has recently resurfaced after its disappearance
Show More
during World War II. The painting may have been stolen from Matt's family, and he may be the rightful heir – but only because his father has refused to have anything to do with it. Matt's search for answers leads him to Hungary in the company of his lawyer, Rachel, a practicing Jew. What he learns there will cause him to reexamine all of the important relationships in his life – his relationship with his father, his relationship with his fiancee, and his relationship with God.

This short novel has a nice balance of well-rounded characters, a strong sense of place, and a well-paced mystery that keeps the reader engaged. However, I never could get the chronology to make sense, and it bothered me throughout the novel. Matt's father's age and Matt's own age only make sense if the novel is set at least a decade ago, but the descriptions of the technology Matt uses seem more contemporary than that. Even so, I very much enjoyed this novel and I hope the author has another one in progress.

This review is based on an electronic advanced readers copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
Show Less
LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
Matt Santos is standing in an auction hall, looking at a picture, Budapest Street Scene by Ervin Kálmán. It will be sold the next day and he is ruminating about how this picture came to let him know more about his family than he ever did before and how it changed his life completely. His father
Show More
had warned him about it, told him to let go, not to pursue the case any further, but he wouldn’t listen. So he is standing there on his own, alone, with his thoughts about his ex-girl-friend Tracy, whom he still loves, his lawyer Rachel, who helped him to get hold of the picture, and about his now deceased father.

Memento Park is not easy to summarise. It’s a novel about art, Jewish art in Nazi Europe; it’s about a complicated father-son relationship; it’s a story about people leaving their past behind and burying it down in the back of their minds after emigration; it’s about love and trust, and about religion and the faith you have and to what extent this creates your identity.

Matt is the child of Jewish family who suffered in Budapest under the Nazis, yet he doesn’t know anything about it. Even though he was never told anything about his family’s history, it lives on in him and through the relationship with his father. A father who does not seem to be loving or at least a bit affectionate. He is always distant and until the very end, Matt doesn’t understand why and he never asked. To me, this is the central aspect of the novel, even though I found the Kálmán story, his life and word, even though completely fictional but close to the stories of some artists of that time, also interesting.

Mark Sarvas chose an interesting title for his novel, “Memento Park” is the name of a location in Budapest where all the statues of former communist grandees are exhibited. It’s a way of dealing with the past, neither hiding nor ignoring it, but giving it a place where you can confront it; it’s just a part of life and it helped to shape – here to town and country – but also you as a person. In this way, there are more layers to the novel which make it a great reading experience.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Beamis12
A painting by Ervin Kalman, titled a Budapest Street scene looted by the Nazis, is the background of this novel. Matt, a young Jewish man who is out of touch with his faith, is contacted by a lawyer, telling him this painiting, traced back to his family, has been found. What he cannot understand is
Show More
his father, who came to America from Hungary, doesn't want anything to do with this endeavor. A father who he has a estranged relationship with but do will usually jump all over anything thst pertains to big money. A father who has told him little of his own past.

Not a quickly paced novel, but one that has a great deal of meaning. Matt is an interesting character, not only the the contentious relationship with his father, but also because he realizes how much he doesn't know and understand. This is a thoughtful and meditative look of a man trying to discover his roots, find out why his father was the way he was and in search of the Jewish faith in which he was not raised. Eventually he will find himself in Hungary, gets in touch with the family he never knew he had but still live there. He will find out things that will change him and his life, personally snd relationship wise. While there he will visit Memento Park, an open air museum containing the statues of communists, saints and heroes.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ChuckNorton
"Memento Park" is a novel of identity and personal discovery that also explores the worlds of history, art and religion. These elements intersect in the story of Matt Santos, an American television and film actor of "B list" celebrity, of Hungarian Jewish heritage. In Mark Sarvas' telling, Santos
Show More
narrates his journey to "Virgil", an unseen (by the readers) guide/companion who is an apparent reference to Dante's guide through his literary tour of Hell. In Matt Santos' case, his journey to the metaphorical netherworld involves: learning more about his father than he ever knew before; getting back in touch, both spiritually and literally, with Judaism and the heritage of his people; and visiting the scenes of his family's harrowing experience with the Holocaust in wartime Hungary.

The journey is precipitated by the unexpected news that Matt's family owns a painting called "Budapest Street Scene" that was the work of an Hungarian Jewish artist named Kalman who painted it in 1925 and sold it to Matt's grandfather. It apparently hung in the Szantos ("Santos" is the Americanized spelling) family apartment in Budapest for several years before the grandfather used it to obtain safe passage out of Hungary in 1944, after the Nazis occupied the country and began rounding up the Jews. For some unexplained reason, Matt's father does not want to claim the painting. This puzzles Matt, who knows his dad as something of a cheapskate. In following the story, we learn of his father's hobby/obsession, collecting, showing and selling toy cars. When Matt was a kid, he was not allowed to play with, let alone touch, the cars. They were not for him. This is one of the issues with his old man that he has to work out.

In the case of the painting, the legal work is done by a prestigious Los Angeles law firm and the attorney assigned to it happens to be an attractive and very intelliegent young Jewish woman named Rachel. She and her father, who is very religious, encourage Matt, gently, in his exploration of his Jewishness. This is complicated by his relationship with his shiksa girlfriend Tracy, a model who also does volunteer work on behalf of death row convicts. Tracy, the Protestant Barbie, has an affectionate relationship with Matt's gruff old Jewish father, which baffles him (Matt) but which he later comes to appreciate.

The title of the novel refers to an actual place outside Budapest where the Hungarians have collected all their old Stalinist statuary in a kind of pseudo-nostalgic theme park. Matt and Rachel visit it while they are in Hungary doing research to validate his claim to the painting. In the process, they learn that today's Hungary shares some of the darkness that troubled it when Matt's family had to flee in 1944.
Show Less
LibraryThing member write-review
What a Son Doesn't Know about a Father

In Mark Sarvas’ Memento Park—a brilliantly rendered tale of alienated son and distant father set against the backdrop of the Holocaust and postwar art restitution, death and survival, and current waves of antisemitism, all wrapped in a mystery—people in
Show More
Matt Santos’ (Americanized version of his Hungarian name Mátyás Szantos) life tell him in reference to his father: “Do not make the mistake of assuming that because you know what someone will do, that you know who they are.” It’s only in the end, after much personal tribulation, dredging and reevaluating memory, that Matt begins to understand the advice and comes to appreciate his father. Any readers who have had less than Rockwellian relationships with their fathers will recognize many of the emotions and situations portrayed by Sarvas, though probably not at this level of heightened drama.

Matt Santos lives in L.A. He works as a moderately successful bit-part actor. He is a Jew who knows practically nothing about Judaism. His fiancé, Tracy, a lithesome Nordic beauty who contrasts physically with him, works as a catalogue fashion model. They have a good life together, though Matt is nearly estranged from his father, with Tracy maintaining the good relationship with the father, Gabor. That all changes when Matt receives a call from the Australian consulate regarding a painting confiscated by the Nazi’s during WWII. It may belong to him, his family, and its value is in the millions. Why call him and not his father? They have contacted Gabor and he has told them he has no interest in the painting. Since Matt has always seen his father as a hustler, Gabor’s rejection of the valuable painting rightly mystifies him.

As the story opens, we meet Matt studying the painting, by a modernist and persecuted Hungarian Jewish artist, Ervin Laszlo Kàlmàn (rendered very convincingly), who eventually committed suicide before being rounded up by the Arrow Cross (the Hungarian Nazi Party). Matt scrutinizes it for hours in advance of it going on the auction block, with the full knowledge of why his father rejected the painting, of his unknown family in Hungry, of his relationship with Tracy and his restitution lawyer, Rachel, who helped him seal his claim, and how his family hoped it would save them from the Arrow Cross.

This recollection of the weeks leading up to the hours in the gallery also remind readers of the Nazi persecutions and the desperate measures some took in hopes of survival. Readers, who may not be familiar with what took place in Hungry during the war and postwar as a Soviet client state, or perhaps even the current atmosphere in the country, get introduced to the Arrow Cross, to the monument to massacred Jews “Shoes on the Danube,” as well as the ill-fated Hungarian revolt of 1956 and Soviet domination when Matt and Rachel visit Memento Park, the giant outdoor art installation containing the grandiose statues of the Soviet era.

Additionally, while the novel doesn’t explore the topic of virulent antisemitism in contemporary Hungry in-depth, Sarvas does make readers acutely aware of its existence. Matt not only is trying to understand his father, he’s also connecting with being Jewish. As part of connecting, he personally experiences the antisemitic currents of modern Hungry when he attempts stopping young thugs from desecrating the “Shoes on the Danube.” He suffers a serve beating, landing him in the hospital to be confronted by an unsympathetic and antisemitic police inspector. In other words, what faced his parents and grandparents in old Hungry, what engendered the incident with the painting, to a degree it stills exists in Hungry, though readers will realize this as just one of many places, that include the U.S.

Matt always saw his father as a rather harsh and judgmental man because he was judgmental with Matt. But the father had lived through, bore scars greater than, Matt could imagine. Tracy and Rachel’s admonishment quoted at the top is why Matt couldn’t cut through the fog of his youth to really see his father, until the painting. He does, finally, and heeds one of his father’s often voiced commands, Pay Attention.
Show Less
LibraryThing member write-review
What a Son Doesn't Know about a Father

In Mark Sarvas’ Memento Park—a brilliantly rendered tale of alienated son and distant father set against the backdrop of the Holocaust and postwar art restitution, death and survival, and current waves of antisemitism, all wrapped in a mystery—people in
Show More
Matt Santos’ (Americanized version of his Hungarian name Mátyás Szantos) life tell him in reference to his father: “Do not make the mistake of assuming that because you know what someone will do, that you know who they are.” It’s only in the end, after much personal tribulation, dredging and reevaluating memory, that Matt begins to understand the advice and comes to appreciate his father. Any readers who have had less than Rockwellian relationships with their fathers will recognize many of the emotions and situations portrayed by Sarvas, though probably not at this level of heightened drama.

Matt Santos lives in L.A. He works as a moderately successful bit-part actor. He is a Jew who knows practically nothing about Judaism. His fiancé, Tracy, a lithesome Nordic beauty who contrasts physically with him, works as a catalogue fashion model. They have a good life together, though Matt is nearly estranged from his father, with Tracy maintaining the good relationship with the father, Gabor. That all changes when Matt receives a call from the Australian consulate regarding a painting confiscated by the Nazi’s during WWII. It may belong to him, his family, and its value is in the millions. Why call him and not his father? They have contacted Gabor and he has told them he has no interest in the painting. Since Matt has always seen his father as a hustler, Gabor’s rejection of the valuable painting rightly mystifies him.

As the story opens, we meet Matt studying the painting, by a modernist and persecuted Hungarian Jewish artist, Ervin Laszlo Kàlmàn (rendered very convincingly), who eventually committed suicide before being rounded up by the Arrow Cross (the Hungarian Nazi Party). Matt scrutinizes it for hours in advance of it going on the auction block, with the full knowledge of why his father rejected the painting, of his unknown family in Hungry, of his relationship with Tracy and his restitution lawyer, Rachel, who helped him seal his claim, and how his family hoped it would save them from the Arrow Cross.

This recollection of the weeks leading up to the hours in the gallery also remind readers of the Nazi persecutions and the desperate measures some took in hopes of survival. Readers, who may not be familiar with what took place in Hungry during the war and postwar as a Soviet client state, or perhaps even the current atmosphere in the country, get introduced to the Arrow Cross, to the monument to massacred Jews “Shoes on the Danube,” as well as the ill-fated Hungarian revolt of 1956 and Soviet domination when Matt and Rachel visit Memento Park, the giant outdoor art installation containing the grandiose statues of the Soviet era.

Additionally, while the novel doesn’t explore the topic of virulent antisemitism in contemporary Hungry in-depth, Sarvas does make readers acutely aware of its existence. Matt not only is trying to understand his father, he’s also connecting with being Jewish. As part of connecting, he personally experiences the antisemitic currents of modern Hungry when he attempts stopping young thugs from desecrating the “Shoes on the Danube.” He suffers a serve beating, landing him in the hospital to be confronted by an unsympathetic and antisemitic police inspector. In other words, what faced his parents and grandparents in old Hungry, what engendered the incident with the painting, to a degree it stills exists in Hungry, though readers will realize this as just one of many places, that include the U.S.

Matt always saw his father as a rather harsh and judgmental man because he was judgmental with Matt. But the father had lived through, bore scars greater than, Matt could imagine. Tracy and Rachel’s admonishment quoted at the top is why Matt couldn’t cut through the fog of his youth to really see his father, until the painting. He does, finally, and heeds one of his father’s often voiced commands, Pay Attention.
Show Less

ISBN

0374206376 / 9780374206376
Page: 0.2197 seconds