The Street Sweeper

The Street Sweeper

3.6 12
by Elliot Perlman
     
 

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How breathtakingly close we are to lives that at first seem so far away.

From the civil rights struggle in the United States to the Nazi crimes against humanity in Europe, there are more stories than people passing one another every day on the bustling streets of every crowded city. Only some stories survive to become history.

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Overview

How breathtakingly close we are to lives that at first seem so far away.

From the civil rights struggle in the United States to the Nazi crimes against humanity in Europe, there are more stories than people passing one another every day on the bustling streets of every crowded city. Only some stories survive to become history.

Recently released from prison, Lamont Williams, an African American probationary janitor in a Manhattan hospital and father of a little girl he can’t locate, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly patient, a Holocaust survivor who was a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A few blocks uptown, historian Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor, finds both his career and his long-term romantic relationship falling apart. Emerging from the depths of his own personal history, Adam sees, in a promising research topic suggested by an American World War II veteran, the beginnings of something that might just save him professionally, and perhaps even personally.

As these men try to survive in early-twenty-first-century New York, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Two very different paths—Lamont’s and Adam’s—lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, love, guilt, heroism, the extremes of racism and unexpected kindness, spans the twentieth century to the present, and spans the globe from New York to Chicago to Auschwitz.

Epic in scope, this is a remarkable feat of storytelling.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the heart of Perlman’s long, labyrinthine, but rewarding novel are two narratives: a Polish Jew tells the tale of his ordeal in a Nazi death camp to a black American ex-con while evidence of black American soldiers liberating a concentration camp is unearthed by an Australian-Jewish history professor. That these stories cleverly mirror one another is one of the many strengths of Perlman’s (Seven Types of Ambiguity) latest saga. Lamont Williams, just out of prison and working at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, befriends Henryk Mandelbrot, a patient and Holocaust survivor who recounts his experiences as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland and later working the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Adam Zignelik, in fear of losing his teaching job at Columbia and depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend, discovers early voice recordings of Jewish prisoners, which he scours for testimony that African-American soldiers may have been involved in the liberation of Dachau. Other related characters weave in and out, the coincidences of their intersections fraught with tantalizing meaning. Perlman deftly navigates these complicated waters, moving back and forth in time without having to take narrative responsibility for the course of history. In so doing, he brilliantly makes personal both the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, and crafts a moving and literate page-turner. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Elliot Perlman's The Street Sweeper

"[I]t seems somehow fitting that the author of The Street Sweeper, a wonderfully rich, engaging and multilayered new novel about blacks and Jews in Chicago and New York, would hail from Australia. I've been a fan of Elliot Perlman's work since his 1998 novel Three Dollars. That book and his massive Seven Types of Ambiguity (2004) revealed him to be an author of rare erudition and compassion. But The Street Sweeper is his boldest work yet…" –- The Washington Post

"The Street Sweeper is an impressive literary achievement, complex in its organization, meticulous in its plotting and deeply satisfying in its emotional payoffs." – The Wall Street Journal

"In the best kind of books, there is always that moment when the words on the page swallow the world outside - subway stations fly by, errands go un-run, rational bedtimes are abandoned - and the only goal is to gobble up the next paragraph, and the next, and the next… A towering achievement: a strikingly modern literary novel that brings the ugliest moments of 20th-century history to life, and finds real beauty there." – Entertainment Weekly

"As characters interact and fates intertwine, Perlman tells an engaging multi-generational saga witnessing personal histories that heroically endure and survive brutal and horrific racism to become what we know as the history of the Holocaust and the American Civil Rights movement. At his best, Perlman accomplishes this literary feat by evoking remarkable depth and meaning in otherwise commonplace events and characters…. [W]hat is most memorable about this richly woven tale is the lessons about the importance of memory and remembering, and the novel's underlying compassion and sense of history." – USA Today

"An epic tale that spans decades and bridges generations while chronicling the predominant chapters of racial persecution perpetrated in the darkest hours of the 20th century… Perlman is a consummate storyteller… This stunning novel works, and matters, because of the expert way Perlman has recorded both the agonized howl of the past and the plaintive echoes of the present." – San Francisco Chronicle

"The Street Sweeper connects up its large cast of characters, telling a grim but buoyant story, full of humanity and brave acts. Reading it provides that uncommon thrill in fiction: a philosophical page-turner." – Cleveland Plain Dealer

"The Street Sweeper is a big novel in every sense… It's filled with color and characters whose unlikely connection tells the stories of contemporary New York, 1930s Warsaw and 1950s Chicago." – The Forward

"Perlman offers an affecting meditation on memory itself, on storytelling as an act of healing." – The Guardian (UK)

"An expertly told novel of life in immigrant America-and of the terrible events left behind in the old country." – Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

"Brilliantly makes personal both the Holocaust and the civil rights movement.... A moving and literate page-turner." – Publishers Weekly (STARRED)

"Perlman's compulsively readable wrestle-with-evil saga is intimate and monumental, wrenching and cathartic." – Booklist (STARRED)

Library Journal
Perlman (Seven Types of Ambiguity) delivers a potent novel about the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of two characters in contemporary New York City. Lamont Williams, a young black man just released from prison, works in maintenance at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While helping Mandelbrot, a patient with terminal cancer, he learns the old man was in Auschwitz. This is unfamiliar history to Lamont, but Mandelbrot feels a certain sympathy for him and tells him about the camp in harrowing detail. Meanwhile, Adam Zignelik, a history professor at Columbia University, discovers recordings of conversations with camp survivors made directly after the war. Before dying, Mandelbrot presents Lamont with a menorah, but Lamont is accused of stealing it and loses his job. Eventually, the stories converge as Lamont seeks to clear his name with Adam's help. VERDICT This is not a flawless work, as its very size and complexity can diffuse the power of its message. It is nonetheless important—so ambitious that its contents can only be hinted at in a summary. Perlman has done a valuable service by updating our understanding of history and making it resonate in a work of fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta
Adam Langer
…a wonderfully rich, engaging and multilayered new novel…[Perlman's] boldest work yet…the story is truly impressive in the breadth of its details…Perlman can be a stubbornly old-fashioned writer with a profound dedication to the idea of the novel's social importance. And he has produced a well-researched and passionately told work. On nearly every page, we can sense the author's fascination with history and his deep affection for these characters.
—The Washington Post

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594488474
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
01/05/2012
Pages:
640
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.58(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for The Street Sweeper

“[I]t seems somehow fitting that the author of The Street Sweeper, a wonderfully rich, engaging and multilayered new novel about blacks and Jews in Chicago and New York, would hail from Australia. I’ve been a fan of Elliot Perlman’s work since his 1998 novel Three Dollars. That book and his massive Seven Types of Ambiguity (2004) revealed him to be an author of rare erudition and compassion. But The Street Sweeper is his boldest work yet…” – The Washington Post

“In the best kind of books, there is always that moment when the words on the page swallow the world outside — subway stations fly by, errands go un-run, rational bedtimes are abandoned — and the only goal is to gobble up the next paragraph, and the next, and the next… A towering achievement: a strikingly modern literary novel that brings the ugliest moments of 20th-century history to life, and finds real beauty there.” – Entertainment Weekly

"[A] richly woven tale..." — USA Today

"Perlman is a consummate storyteller... The narrative pull is breathtaking.... This stunning novel works, and matters, because of the expert way Perlman has recorded both the agonized howl of the past and plaintive echoes of the present." — San Francisco Chronicle

"[Perlman] brilliantly makes personal both the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, and crafts a moving and literate page-turner." — Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"Perlman’s long tale, spanning decades, is suspenseful and perfectly told in many voices, without a false note. It deals with big issues of memory, race, human fallibilities and the will to survive against the odds. A keeper: a story that speaks to the simple longing for freedom and peace, and to all the things that get in the way." — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

"A master... In his intently detailed, worlds-within-worlds third novel, this discerning and unflinching investigator of moral dilemmas great and small takes on the monstrous horrors of racism in America and the Holocaust... Perlman's compulsively readable wrestle-with-evil saga is intimate and monumental, wrenching and cathartic." — Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

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