Combined Reviews: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

| No TrackBacks
street_sweeper.jpg    The Street Sweeper
Elliot Perlman
Random House

From the publisher's page:
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 each other every day on the bustling streets of every crowded city. Only some 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 had been a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A few kilometres uptown, Australian historian Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor, finds both his career and his long-term romantic relationship falling apart. Emerging out of 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 two 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 Melbourne, Chicago to Auschwitz.

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


Kirsten Tranter in "The Monthly": "Perlman draws extensively on historical records and includes pages of suggestions for further reading. This is fiction, but fiction that deliberately blurs the boundaries between story and history. At the book's heart is an urgent imperative akin to Henryk's: the desire to reveal to anyone - to everyone, to the world - the truth about the Holocaust and the realities of the camps. 'Tell everyone what happened here,' is the last statement of one character, Rosa Rabinowitz, hanged at Auschwitz for her part in a failed uprising. This line re-surfaces and echoes throughout the novel."

Jay Parini in "The Guardian": "The Australian novelist Elliot Perlman does what all good novelists do: reports on the trials of being human in a world that wishes to frustrate every good deed and punishes with consummate cruelty every sin, however slight. The central character in his first novel, 1998's Three Dollars, was made homeless by a financial collapse far beyond his control. In Seven Types of Ambiguity - the title a nod at William Empson - we meet as many narrators whose already unstable lives are knocked off course by one man's abduction of his ex-girlfriend's young son. In his latest, The Street Sweeper, two disparate protagonists struggle to find a footing on desperately uneven ground...Epic is a word that one must use carefully. But this is an epic, in scope and moral seriousness. The story spans half a century, with scenes in New York, Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, and Auschwitz. It's mainly a book of memories, but as Perlman reminds us in the opening lines: 'Memory is a wilful dog. It won't be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you.' He could be talking to himself here, as he embarks on a journey that invites us to learn something about how we mismanage our lives, and how when one door closes, another opens. In all of this, 'The trick is not to hate yourself. No matter what you remember.'"

Luke May for "Readings": "Listen. Listen carefully. Shlofmayn kind, shlofkeseyder - for Perlman's new book is not a Yiddish lullaby, but one of the most compelling Holocaust tales since Schindler's Ark. It's been eight years since Seven Types of Ambiguity - that grand epic rivaling The Corrections in its dealings with the fissures between morals and the ability to live - and now we have a new marathon of a book that is every bit as complicated and masterful."

Leyla Sanai in "The Independent": "Weighing in at 550 pages, Perlman's novel may look intimidating, but it's an accessible albeit harrowing read. Perlman has used real history as its basis, drawing on both the racist atrocities which galvanised the US civil rights movement, and on the inhumane crimes of Nazi Germany. Adam's father taught him about the horrific violence that preceded and followed the Brown vs Board of Education case in the US courts which led, eventually, to the end of segregated schools. Adam's boss's father is horrified by a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court to end affirmative action for disadvantaged black kids, and is disgusted by Columbia inviting bigots to speak under the aegis of 'freedom of speech'. Meanwhile, Adam teaches his students about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Nazi-era German Lutheran pastor who drew parallels between the treatment of blacks in the US and that of Jews in his country...Perlman's novel is no mere re-hashing of history, and although the Holocaust details are devastating, they are not gratuitous. The contemporary characters' concerns, meanwhile, are often those we share - Lamont aches for his child; Adam his girlfriend."

David Gates in "The New York Times": "It seems meanspirited to fault so morally and politically righteous a novel for merely literary sins. Its most explicit theme is the necessity of remembering and retelling the stories of the oppressed, the persecuted, the murdered: principally the Jews before and during the Holocaust and African-Americans before and during the civil rights movement. No decent person could argue against this necessity; on the other hand, no decent writer should have to repeat variants of the line 'Tell everyone what happened here' 12 times in two pages of a scene at Auschwitz; it takes on the robotic affect of the People's Microphone at an Occupy rally, and it loses force with each use."


Booktopia interviews Elliot Perlman:

Jane Sullivan in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"Ten Terrifying Questions" from Booktopia.

Sophie Elmhirst in "The New Statesman".

"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.


Random Book Talk featuring Elliot Perlman:

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 8, 2012 6:52 AM.

ALS Gold Medal Longlist for 2012 was the previous entry in this blog.

Reprint: Authorship: Local Discouragements by Arthur H. Adams is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en