The Street Sweeper Book reviews


Author(s): Elliot PerlmanDownload  


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.

Some Reviews: 632 in

Diane Barnes

Diane Barnes rated it      

I’ve been pretty useless for the past week because I went down the rabbit hole with this book, and just like Alice, I wasn’t the same person when I returned. Every time I opened the book, I literally fell into it, losing any conciousness of what was going on around me. It was impossible to read very long at any one time because of the intensity of the storytelling. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the characters.

Let’s just say this novel was a masterful combination of history and storytelling. Using fictional characters as stand-ins for real people involved in actual historical events, we begin to understand more than we ever wanted to know about the Nazi death camps during WWII, and also about hatred and racism, not just for Jews, but blacks and Muslims and women and ex-cons, and anyone that may be down and out, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The connections between all of us are closer than we may think.

I don’t know how the author pulled this off, or how long it took him, but the magnitude of his accomplishment is almost unbelievable. Every time I see pictures on the news of groups of people chanting “Send her back” or “Lock her up” or any other short phrase intended to belittle any person or group, I’m going to think of this book.

“Tell everyone what happened here. Tell everyone what happened here.”

It’s more important than you think.


Laura rated it      

What a beautiful story that is full of emotion. Fortunately, I was very patient with this book and was not in a hurry to finish. There are lots of characters and lots of historical happenings that take some time to get through. When everything comes around full circle I found it impossible not to give this a 5 star rating. It’s very detailed in explaining the death camps of the war. I guess that’s a trigger warning. It’s very disturbing. I loved this book!!!! Grab a box of tissues and brace yourself for a great read!


Elaine rated it      

“Memory is a wilful dog. It won’t be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you. It can sustain you or feed on you. It visits when it is hungry, not when you are. It has a schedule of its own that you can never know. It can capture you, corner you or it can liberate you. It can leave you howling and it can make you smile. Sometimes it’s funny what you remember.”

This is Elliot Perlman‘s Masterpiece. What a brilliantly written book. It tugs at your heart strings. It is confronting, shocking, leaves you gasping out loud. There is so much in this book that a review just cannot capture. The raw emotions it reveals, the suffering, the hope.

If you think you know everything there is to know about the Holocaust….think again. If you think you know what human nature is and can endure….think again and if you think you know what this book is about and it’s all been said before, trust me you don’t. Reading this book is something everyone must experience for themselves.


Tango rated it      

I won’t try to capture the story, as so many reviews here have already done. This is not a perfect novel but is deserving of five stars for the intensity of the writing. Perlman is able to keep the reader enthralled over 600 or so pages which is quite a feat. I felt a great fondness for each of the characters and cared about what would happen to them.

He includes some incredible coincidences when the lives of the characters intersect in unbelievable ways which did make me step outside the narrative and imagine Perlman carefully plotting it all out. However, his treatment of the holocaust and the life of an unfortunate African American man are dealt with without over sentimentality or resorting to cliche.

After not really enjoying Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity he has redeemed himself with this one and I will seek out his other work.

Katz Nancy from NJ

Katz Nancy from NJ rated it      

I just finished The Street Sweeper by Elliott Perlman and all I can say is WOW!! This book begins in New York City where we meet a black man who has just been released from jail. The book then introduces us to a Professor of History at Columbia, who was raised in Australia, and learns he won’t be receiving tenure. Along the way we meet an elderly man who has survived the Holocaust and tells his story to an orderly at Sloan Kettering Hospital, And then another man from the 40’s who interviewed many survivors in an attempt to find out how language plays a part in their future choice of words and finally a man from the 1940’s who interviews Holocaust survivors in an attempt to see how language played a part in their future communications. Of course there are many other characters in this book and the narrative switches from the present to WWII to Chicago in the 60’s when the civil rights movement was in full force.

This is a long book but one which moves swiftly. Fundamentally, as the book states is “what is memory?” How does coincidence play a role in our lives? What part of our memories are better left forgotten?

Although this book shifts from the young black man to the white Professor, one leaves the portions asking for more. For those who enjoy, if we can use the word enjoy, books about the Holocaust and the battered life of a young black man, this is a must read.


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