Friday 10 September 2021

Last Impressions

Finished September 5
Last Impressions by Joseph Kertes

Ben is the middle son of Zoltan Beck, a Holocaust survivor and Canadian immigrant. Zoltan (Zoli) grew up in an upper-class family in Hungary, the younger son in the family. He venerated his older brother Bela, who was a gifted musician and despite his young age a teacher at the Franz Liszt Academy. 
The book begins with Ben visiting his father in the hospital, Zoltan is nearing the end of his life and Ben is still trying to understand him. We see the interaction between the two men, and can sense the strong connection, and Ben's deep emotion. 
The story then jumps back a few months to when Ben is picking his father up to take him into the hospital for a colonoscopy. Ben's younger brother, an eye surgeon, has finally convinced Zoli to get the procedure done, but the visit is a comedy of errors, as is Zoli's driving test shortly after. We get a sense of the zaniness of the older man and the way his mind works.
Zoli has never gone back to Hungary, his country of birth since he emigrated in the 1950s when Ben was a young child. It is something both he and his wife talked of from time to time, but never followed through on. The family decides that he must go while he still can and so it is arranged that Ben takes him back to his homeland.
The book then jumps back and forth between Zoli's experiences as a Jew in Hungary near the end of the Second World War, and things he has never talked about with his family before. As the two storylines come together we learn some of what has made Zoli the man he is, and why he has suppressed so much of this until now. 
I loved the relationship between the father and son, and Zoli's relationship with his daughter-in-law Lucy as well. Zoli is a character, full of quirks that make him both exasperating and lovable. As the story unfolds and Zoli finds that there are things he didn't know about the past as well, there is a sense of inevitability in the way things come together. A fantastic read that I could barely put down.

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