I knew I was reading something very special when within the first paragraph of Elliot Perlman’s magnificent new novel, The Street Sweeper, Lamont, an inmate in prison ruminates, ‘The trick is not to hate yourself.’ That’s what he’d been told inside. ‘If you can manage not to hate yourself, then it won’t hurt to remember almost anything: your childhood, your parents, what you’ve done or what’s been done to you,’ he was told. But even at the time, it struck Lamont that a lot of the people who had been locked up with him did not ‘hate themselves’ quite enough. He remembers a lot of the people being fairly forgiving towards themselves. Some, positively brimming with forgiveness for themselves, could not understand it when others were not so forgiving of them.’
Lamont, recently released from prison and working as a hospital janitor, strikes up an unlikely friendship with a patient, an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor and former member of the Sonderkommando (those prisoners forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria of the Nazi extermination camps). Through a few degrees of separation he is linked with Adam Zignelik, an almost 40-year-old untenured academic historian at New York’s Columbia University, who is the only son of a prominent American civil rights lawyer and an Australian mother. Together Adam and Lamont's stories steeped in civil rights movements, guilt, freedom, heroism, and astonishing kindness sweep the whole gauntlet of 20th century world history from New York to Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, Berlin and Auschwitz.
Author of Three Dollars and Seven Types of Ambiguity, Elliot Perlman has won The Age Book of the Year Award, has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and is the recipient of the Queensland Premier's award for Advancing Public Debate. He is fittingly described by Lire (France) as ''one of the '50 most important writers in the world'. A Melbourne author with a very worldly outlook, this is a humbling, yet sensational read.
Review by Nicole Maher @ greatescapebooks