Sarvas, Mark. “Memento Park: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018).
His Father’s Son
Matt Santos learns more about his father than he ever could have imagined when a mysterious piece of art is unexpectedly restored to him. When he received a call from the Australian consulate, Matt learned about a painting that was believed to have been taken from his family in Hungary during the Second World War. To recover the painting, he has to repair his strained relationship with his harshly judgmental father, uncover his family history, and restore his connection to his own Judaism. None of these are easy to do. 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 find the truth about the painting and about his family.
Matt’s revelations include consuming and imaginative meditations on the painting and the painter at the center of his personal drama. The painting is by Ervin Kálmán and is entitled “Budapest Street Scene”. As the film moves forward, Matt’s narrative becomes as much about family history and father-son dynamics as it is about the nature of art itself, and the many ways we come to understand ourselves through it.
Any book that looks at the nature of identity is filled with questions but here we get the added topics on the natures of art and history. Yet the most important question is how we move forward when we cannot escape the past. While this is a novel and a mystery with lots of suspense we also have subplots of farther and son, identity and the horrific happenings in the past. Regarding art, we see interpretation and reinterpretation and understand that this is the beauty of art in any of its forms.
We become acutely aware of the ties that keep us together and what forces us apart. I am not sure that many of us want to agree to be the next generation because of the responsibility that that goes with this. Can we carry the horrors of the past forward or do we leave them behind as just a memory. It we choose the second alternative, there is the chance that what is left as lore becomes lost as yore. Is history a natural legacy or does each generation have to discover it anew? Is there a need to face the lies of the past or do we see them just as horrors. Historical memory often becomes clouded and history can become a crime itself.
Here the attempts to reclaim a painting seized by the Nazis becomes a moving story about a father’s desire to bury his past and a son’s desire to claim it. As the two , we see that identity is both inheritance and invention and these are equal. Can we own the past the same way someone can own a painting? Ownership can often become delusional and profound.
Personally, I love a book that makes me deal with questions like these and I love the idea of finishing a book with more questions that I had when I began it. After all, one of the aims of literature is to make the reader think and that happens here over and over.