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 time Memento Park reaches 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’s Memento 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?
"Sly, searching . . . Sarvas is astute in portraying how relationships can calcify in childhood, and the exquisite pain of attempting to repair them in adulthood . . . [He] tackles big questions—about what constitutes restitution, the nature of faith, the essential role of storytelling in our lives."—Ellen Umansky, The New York Times Book Review
"While Sarvas’s book is full of cunningly prepared surprises, it is also a fundamentally thoughtful and meditative story, whose real plot is Matt’s achievement of a kind of perspective on his past . . . While Memento Park is very much a book about the Hungarian Jewish experience, the dynamics it portrays are common to any immigrant family, where history is the thing everyone is trying to forget, even though it is present in every word."—Adam Kirsch, The Washington Post
"A psychologically rich portrait of familial discord."—Michael Margas, Newsday
"Memento Park is ultimately about the mutability of memories and understanding, and an exhortation to really pay attention—while realizing how much you may miss regardless."—Heller McAlpin, NPR.org
"Sarvas has created a gripping, twisty mystery that deftly tackles big questions—about the weight of history, the intricacies of identity, the often anguished love between parents and children . . ."—Barbara Spindel, Barnes & Noble Review
"Sarvas is an expert at depicting the dualities of the immigrant experience . . . As its protagonist puzzles over his identity, his relationships, and the painter Erwin Kàlmàn’s troubled past, Memento Park assembles these pieces into a satisfying whole."—Ingrid Vega, Zyzzyva
"Memento Park has everything in precisely the right proportions: pace, plot, suspense, intricate characters and meditations on the loneliness of a secular Jewish life that are heartfelt . . . In short, Sarvas has somehow managed to nail down in this novel what it means to truly come to terms with a difficult past."—Elaine Margolin, The Jerusalem Post
“Mark Sarvas has written a gripping mystery novel about art that is also a powerful meditation on fathers and sons, and the need to face up to the falsehoods spawned by the horror of the past.”—Salman Rushdie
“What does the next generation carry forward, and why is it so compelling? In his powerful novel Memento Park, Mark Sarvas explores the essential questions of history, its burdens, and legacies.”—Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko, finalist for the National Book Award
“In Mark Sarvas’ elegant, poignant, and intellectually arresting novel, the attempts to reclaim a painting seized by the Nazis opens up into a moving story about a father’s desire to bury his past and a son’s to claim it. Propelled by the intrigue of mystery and suffused with a knowing humor, the novel explores the vagaries of historical memory, the ways in which identity is equal parts inheritance and invention, and the delusions of ownership. Memento Park’s reach is wide and its concerns profound.”—Marisa Silver, author of Little Nothing and Mary Coin
"Sarvas couples a suspenseful mystery with nuanced meditations on father-son bonds, the intricacies of identity, the aftershocks of history’s horrors, and the ways people and artworks can—perhaps even must—be endlessly reinterpreted."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
I STAND BEFORE THE PAINTING, which is small and, frankly, ugly. I can admit that at last, can finally see it, since it no longer represents serendipitous millions or retrieved history or much of anything more than a garish trio of midnight revelers...