After the 1956 revolution in Hungary, a childless Swedish civil servant adopts a Hungarian boy from a refugee camp in Austria. He and his wife never tell the boy, Ervin, that he is not their son by birth. Although they firmly believe that they gave Ervin a much better life than he would have been given by his original family, father and son gradually become more and more estranged, due to unspoken secrets and the absence of spontaneous feeling.
Trying to understand what went wrong between them, the father travels to Budapest to search for Ervin’s roots, on the basis of what scant information he was given at the time of the adoption. His search leads him to a psychiatrist in Budapest’s most renowned psychiatric hospital. Dr Bíró shows Mr Grönewald documents which prove that Ervin’s mother, a zealous communist, had been an inmate in that hospital after the 1956 revolution.
The father’s search for meaning is juxtaposed with the predicament of Dr Bíró, the dedicated psychiatrist, who is obliged to look for a job when the psychiatric hospital is closed down 139 years after its foundation – a scandalous piece of contemporary Hungarian history (the hospital was indeed closed down in 2007).
Can we leave our painful memories behind and still find our place in the world? This is the question raised by Schein’s beautifully written, meditative and low-key narrative of identity and memory, sanity and madness.
Can we leave our painful memories behind and still find our place in the world?
ISBN 978 615 54 5474 5
Kalligram, 2015, hardback
208 pages, 3499 HUF
English excerpt and complete German text available
German, Friedenauer Presse