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Memento Park by Mark Sarvas

Memento Park by Mark Sarvas

This Year’s One Book is a Journey of Discovery

By Betsy Gomberg for JUF News.

Readers can celebrate Jewish Book Month in November with One Book | One Community, in which a single book is selected, read, and explored through author appearances and book discussions across the city and suburbs. As in previous years, the One Book initiative is spearheaded by Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

This year’s selection is Memento Park by California author Mark Sarvas. Named for a Budapest collection of statues from communist dictatorships, Memento Park is a story of discovery written with sly humor. Set in Los Angeles, New York, and Budapest, with a short stop in Chicago, the book begins with the discovery of a painting believed to have been looted by the Nazis. The story then unfolds with discoveries of hidden family histories, contested connections, and newfound faith. Critic Adam Kirsch, writing in The Washington Post, lauded the book’s relevance. “While Memento Park is very much a book about the Hungarian Jewish experience,” he said, “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."

This is Mark Sarvas’ second novel. His first, Harry, Revised, was published in more than a dozen countries. As a book critic, his reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Threepenny Review, Bookforum, and other publications. For years, he wrote the literary weblog The Elegant Variation, a Forbes “best of the web.” He lives in Santa Monica and teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

Sarvas will be in Chicago for three appearances. The first — at 10:30 am on Sunday, November 18 at Spertus Institute — is a conversation between Sarvas and Alexandra Salomon, editor of WBEZ Radio's Curious City. Like Mark Sarvas and his lead Memento Park character, Matt Santos, Salomon comes from a family who emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary. Before Curious City, she served was a senior producer for WBEZ’s Worldview and has reported for news outlets including The Economist, The Jerusalem Post, and the BBC.

Sarvas’ second appearance takes place that afternoon at 2:00 pm, when he will discuss Memento Park at a free event at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard. Books will be for sale and Sarvas will sign books at receptions at both of these events.

For his third appearance, Sarvas will take part in a free book discussion at the Highland Park Library on November 19 at 7:00 pm.

Additional book discussions are scheduled at McHenry County Jewish Congregation in Crystal Lake, Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, and Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills. Book discussions are free and open to the public. They are led by Facilitator Rachel Kamin, Director of the Gray Cultural & Learning Center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park.

Reservations are recommended for the author events. They can be made online at, where readers can also sign up for book and ticket giveaways and explore One Book resources.

These programs and discussions are key to One Book | One Community. In talking about the initiative, now in its eighth year, Spertus Associate Dean Beth Schenker said: “Both storytelling and the written word are vital in Jewish tradition. This initiative brings readers together through the shared enjoyment and exploration of Jewish literature, enhanced by programs and discussions. For Spertus, this supports one of our guiding principles, that learning enhances the vibrancy of a community. We are able to support and engage with Jewish authors—and together delve into our past, explore our present, and imagine our future.”

About Memento Park
After receiving an unexpected call from the Australian consulate, actor Matt Santos becomes aware of a painting that may have been looted from his family in Hungary during the Second World War. To recover the painting, he must face his harshly judgmental father, uncover his family history, and restore his wayward connection to Judaism. Along the way to illuminating the mysteries of his past, Matt is torn between his girlfriend Tracy and his attorney Rachel, with whom he travels to Budapest to unearth the truth.

Memento Park was released earlier this year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio, and will be released in paperback in March 2019. Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community. JUF News is One Book | One Community media sponsor.

Betsy Gomberg reads (and sometimes writes) about Jewish books. She is Spertus Institute’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

About Jewish Book Month
Jewish Book Month is an international event dedicated to the celebration of Jewish books. It is observed during the month preceding Hanukkah.

Events and Programs with Author Mark Sarvas

Sunday, November 18 at 10:30 am
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
610 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605 
Discount parking $8 at Grant Park South Garage

At this special event, hear author Mark Sarvas in conversation with Alexandra Salomon, editor of WBEZ's Curious City. Salomon was a senior producer for WBEZ’s Worldview and spent nearly a decade overseas reporting for news outlets including The Boston Globe, The Economist, The Jerusalem Post, and the BBC. Books will be for sale and Mark Sarvas will be signing books at a reception following this event. 
$5. Purchase tickets in advance >

Sunday, November 18 at 2:00 pm

Congregation Etz Chaim
1710 S Highland Ave., Lombard, IL 60148
Books will be for sale and Mark Sarvas will be signing books at a reception following this program.
Free. Reserve your spot online >
Thank you to Congregation Etz Chaim for generously underwriting this event.

Monday, November 19 at 7:00 pm
Highland Park Library
494 Laurel Ave, Highland Park, IL 60035
Led by Facilitator Rachel Kamin.
Free. Reserve your spot online >

Additional Book Discussions

Additional book discussions will take place in locations throughout Greater Chicago, led by Facilitator Rachel Kamin. Book discussions are free and open to the public. Sign up above right to receive additional dates and locations as confirmed.

Thursday, November 8 at 7:00 pm
McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake

Tuesday, October 30 at 7:30 pm
Congregation Etz Chaim, Lombard

Friday, November 17 at 6:45 pm
Congregation Sukkat Shalom, Wilmette

Saturday, November 17 at 12:30 pm
North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park

Thursday, December 6 at 7:00 pm
Congregation Or Shalom, Vernon Hills


Friday, October 5, 2018

Thank you to our sponsors

JUF News 
One Book | One Community
media sponsor

This year’s One Book events are part of the Solomon Goldman Lecture Series, generously endowed by the late Rose and Sidney Shure.