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Book Review: Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

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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.

The novel interweaves two main stories, an ex-con named Lamont Williams and the historian Adam Zignelik. Williams, an African American ex-con, 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.

The Street Sweeper is storytelling at its best. With its own unique rhythm, intricate and involved, well-written and sweeping, 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.

Moreover, the book 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.

While remembering is certainly a point which is hammered throughout The Street Sweeper, 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 six million) which no person can 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 expand upon what we, the human kind, have been capable to do to one another.

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