The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

Fiction Pick by Jean-Louis:

Riverhead Books, 2012

At one point in my life I was on a path to become a historian but I left “straight” history for fiction because I discovered that in well-written fiction I could experience a more true sense of the world around us. Elliott Perlman’s novel hits the sweet spot for me in that it combines a moving human portrait grounded in a historical reality.

Lamont Williams, a man recently released from prison, is trying to reach a new equilibrium while working as a cleaner at a hospital. Stuck in a prison mindset, Lamont is trying very carefully to establish himself so that he can regain the life he lost before entering prison. Into his world arrives a dying man, a Holocaust survivor, who like the narrator in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” has a terrible tale to reveal.

Another perspective is that of Adam Zignelik, a history professor whose career and personal life have recently fallen off the rails. Like Lamont, Adam has lost control of his own narrative and can’t seem to figure out how to go forward until he is confronted by a new story.

Perlman’s strong characters reveal a horrendous personal drama set in the death camps and lead us forward through the American civil rights movement and into our current times. For those readers who like their fiction with a historical twist, The Street Sweeper will be a welcome read.

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