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The street sweeper by Elliot Perlman
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The street sweeper (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Elliot Perlman

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3214934,553 (4.2)41
Member:minerva2607
Title:The street sweeper
Authors:Elliot Perlman (Author)
Info:Vintage Books (Kindle ed)
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:e-Books, Australian literature

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The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
'History...it's a way of honouring those who came before us. We can tell their stories. Wouldn't you want someone to tell your story? Ultimately, it's the best proof there is that we mattered. And what else is life from the time you were born but a struggle to matter, at least to someone?'

This novel is a multi-layered collection of stories and of people that make up those stories, all deftly weaved together to create the many landscapes of lives that are depicted here.

Initially, the main characters are Lamont Williams and Adam Zignelik. Lamont has recently been released from prison after unwittingly being caught up in a crime, and is now working, for an intial six-month probationary period, as a hospital janitor in Manhattan, desperate to impress and anxious to stay out of trouble, and longing to be somehow reunited with his young daughter. During his work there, he begins a friendship with an elderly patient, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and Lamont listens as the patient recounts his remarkable past.

Adam is a twentieth century political historian working at Columbia University, and he is also the son of a prominent Jewish civil rights lawyer. However, Adam's career has come to a standstill and he is doubting himself and his relationship. William McCray, also a civil rights activist and a long-term friend of Adam's late father Jake, suggests a possible topic that Adam might look into in order to revive his academic research.
However, the stories about Lamont and Adam also develop to involve the stories of their families, their friends, of acquaintances, whose lives have all impacted on each other in some way, whose stories are also told, and which all come together to build a picture of so many lives, and make one amazing book.

The reader is taken on an extraordinary journey through the lives of the characters, from New York to Chicago in the present day, back in time to pre-WWII Warsaw, and to Auschwitz. The stories are absorbing, and the way the characters from the present and past become linked through time is wonderful. I felt the excitement and anticipation as Adam realises how important the material he has unearthed from the past could be; a 'once in a career' find. The novel is beautifully written throughout, but one moving passage particularly stood out to me, when Adam is looking through the material he has found, relating to survivors at a camp for displaced persons after WWII has ended, a place...

'...where a cacophony of sounds approximating a myriad languages jostled fiercely with each other from the mouths of disparate ages and origins who shared only that, en masse, they were more broken from their first-hand experience of what humans are able to visit on one another, more broken from their unasked-for and unusally refined understanding of life's jagged extremes than perhaps any other collection of people on earth. Corralled again inside a camp, this one overseen by their liberators, they waited for a future almost as unimaginable to them as their recent past was to everybody else. Exhale too fast and you'd blow them over and with them their memories would spill out onto the very European ground their families now fertilised.'

I can't recommend this novel highly enough. For me, it is an absolutely stunning read. It makes for difficult reading at times; it made me feel painfully sad, it made me angry, it brought me to tears. The very worst of humanity, the cruelties and discrimination of racism that man has inflicted upon his fellow man, is here for us to witness. There are also moments of joy, and humour, and some incredibly humane, caring people who offer hope. The characters came so vividly to life in my head as I was reading. I couldn't wait to pick this book up again and read some more. Parts of the novel were an education for me, and caused me to stop and think, and I went off to find out more about certain dates and events. The author has undertaken a huge amount of research to bring his story to us. I love how the layers build, the story moves forward and back in time, and it all added to my pleasure in reading this novel. Please don't let the length put you off.

Ultimately, it is about individual stories and memories, about history and about humanity, and about how we as people touch each other's lives.

It is a rich, intelligent, important book. I would wholeheartedly recommend it. ( )
  LindsaysLibrary | Aug 19, 2016 |
Something has gone bizarrely amiss for me with this one. I've only been able to make it to just about half way before having to give up for now. The subject matter is interesting but I am finding the writing extremely unengaging. Part of the problem for me is the dry and unconvincing way in which historical information is presented, an example of which being several pages of dialogue between two people intimately versed in the history of the civil rights movement telling each other in great detail what events happened when. Ludicrous.

I'm also finding the writing rather clunky and can't understand why Perlman repeats pointless/pedestrian information (e.g. people's full names and occupations) several times in the space of a few pages. There's also a reuse of turns of phrase that smacks of poor proof-reading and or a lack of effort.

I'm kind of stunned, particularly as this book came to me highly recommended and because I loved Three Dollars and was assured it was the vastly inferior offering. I hope one day I'll manage to get through the rest, but right now I have very little reading time to spare and can't stand the thought of being stuck with this monotony for weeks and weeks. ( )
  Vivl | Dec 2, 2015 |
Highly recommended read. At first you may find it hard to get into but when it gets going this is a very well crafted book which manages to draw parallels with the Holocaust and the civil rights movement and race relations in the USA. Some truly memorable and haunting sections dealing with Auschwitz really stick out for me- the book stays with you a long while after finishing. ( )
  polarbear123 | Nov 15, 2015 |
I got swept into this story without really realizing that was what was happening. At first, the various threads seemed much too disparate, but gradually I realized what the author was doing, and how the stories he was telling were going to intersect, although it seemed quite unlikely. As the connections were revealed I felt a little thrilled, despite the intense harshness of some of the narrative, particularly the Holocaust sections. The graphic descriptions of what happened in Auschwitz were particularly moving and disturbing, and were for a time the most compelling part of the novel to me. The author's style, almost an oral-storytelling model, with a lot of repetition of phrases that became almost melodic, seemed necessary by the end, since so much of the story was about a story that must never be forgotten. How else to remember than to be told, over and over, and over again. Not in an imposing way, but simply for emphasis and effect. And it was certainly effective. ( )
  karenchase | Aug 20, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Elliot Perlman's "The Street Sweeper" is a novel of big themes and big ideas. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the Holocaust are powerfully woven together in Perlman's grand novel through stories found and lost. Synchronicity guides the action and we too suffer, learn, and seek redemption like characters in a mythic play. A must read. ( )
  greggchadwick | Apr 18, 2015 |
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Bergen staan voor deze smart gebogen...
Maar het verre lied van hoop weerklinkt

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Book description
Lamont Williams is a paroled felon looking to turn his life around, working as a street sweeper at a large city hospital and searching for his estranged daughter. Adam Zignelik is a struggling, nontenured professor, paralyzed by looming failure, his life falling apart around him. He discovers a cache of recordings of previously unheard voices reaching out from a horrific past, voices that can both save his career and bring him back to the woman he loves. At the same time, Lamont forges an unlikely friendship with a dying man, who, having lived through those horrors, has a crucially important story to tell and to preserve. The worlds surrounding these two men, their families, their pasts, their potential futures, swirl in and out of history as the forces of the Holocaust, the American civil rights movement, Chicago unions, and New York City racial politics combine in a thrilling cross- generational literary symphony.
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"From the author of Seven Types of Ambiguity, an epic that reaches across generations and spans continents, revealing the interconnectedness and interdependence of humanity and the profound impact of memory on our lives"--

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