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The Street Sweeper

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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 ...

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The Street Sweeper

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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.)
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: 1/5/2012
  • Pages: 640
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Elliot Perlman is the author of The Reasons I Won't Be Coming and Seven Types of Ambiguity. He also cowrote the award-winning screenplay for a film version of Three Dollars, his first novel. He lives in Australia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(5)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The Impor­tance of Remembering

    The Street Sweeper by Aus­tralian his­to­rian Elliot Perl­man is a fic­tional book which deals with the Amer­i­can strug­gle for civil rights and the Holo­caust. The book beau­ti­fully ties together the idea that we are all human and touch each other’s lives.

    Lam­ont Williams, an ex-con African Amer­i­can, is try­ing to return to nor­mal life after being at the wrong time in the wrong place. Lam­ont gets a job at a hos­pi­tal where he works as a jan­i­tor and befriends a can­cer patient who is also a World War II sur­vivor. Lam­ont learns about Poland, the Jews, exter­mi­na­tion camps, gas cham­bers and the Sonderkommando.

    Adam Zigne­lik is an untenured Colum­bia his­to­rian whose career and rela­tion­ships are falling apart. Adam pur­sues a research topic about African Amer­i­cans being part of lib­er­at­ing con­cen­tra­tion camps and finds a dis­cov­ery of a lifetime.

    he Street Sweeper by Elliot Perl­man is sto­ry­telling at its best. The book man­ages to bring com­plex ideas to the fore­front of the reader’s atten­tion such as what is his­tory, how do we record it or pass it along as well as the impor­tance of first­hand accounts.

    A well writ­ten and sweep­ing book which touches many sub­jects and ties them all together in a humane sense rather than the metic­u­lous books we read about his­tory. How­ever, the main point of the book, for me, was the impor­tance of remem­ber­ing his­tory, not as dry dates and fig­ures but from the point of view of peo­ple who are real peo­ple, fathers, moth­ers, daugh­ters, broth­ers and sisters.

    The book inter­weaves two main sto­ries, an ex-con named Lam­ont Williams and the his­to­rian Adam Zigne­lik. The book has its own unique rhythm which is intri­cate and involved.

    While remem­ber­ing is cer­tainly a point which is ham­mered through­out the book, some themes also include love, lost and that basi­cally we are all human beings and we must always remem­ber that despite the unbe­liev­able out­ra­geous num­bers (like 6 mil­lion) which any per­son can­not even fathom.

    Mr. Perl­man wrote a risky novel, one that is intri­cate, detailed yet cycles through events at almost break­neck speed only to stop, reflect and expend upon what we, the human kind, have been capa­ble to do to one another.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2012

    Fascinating and well written.

    The author brings the characters and story together in such a way that I didn't want to put the book down. It is historical fiction that is interesting as well as educational.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2012

    Revelatory

    Engaging

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2012

    I could not wait to dig into my bag of books and retrieve this

    I could not wait to dig into my bag of books and retrieve this one. One sniff (love that new book fragrance), find my bookmark and read! Groan. After forty pages, I pledged to continue until Perlman's forced history march ended and an interesting novel began. At sixty pages I closed the book and went to the bag for another.

    This guy whacks the brain again and again with sermonizing and lecturing that would frustrate even a wide-eyed college freshman. Perlman's fans are accustomed to much better.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    Fell short

    I desperately wanted to love this story as the opening was so beatifully written. However, it quickly gets tiring and dull as the author attempts to telll the story in a series of neauseating stylized flashbacks that seem to drag on, pointlessly, forever. Eventually it just loses the reader in the infinite wait for SOMETHING to happen...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    I have not yet finished it but I love it. I will admit I do find

    I have not yet finished it but I love it. I will admit I do find it a bit confusing when he moves from person to person and from different timeperiods but I somhow know that it will all be tied together in the end. I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013

    Waiting for anything

    I started this book for a book club and only made it about 85 pages in. I was unsure of the point and kept waiting for something to happen. The author flips between two characters and random flashbacks. Confusing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    AnnetteS REVIEW

    Best book i have read in a long time. Touched my heart because it is also my fathers story! Hard to read, but neccessary!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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