The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman caught me by surprise. It was both emotional, educational and even eye-opening. Beginning with the plight of African-American Lamont Williams’ accidental journey into prison, Perlman weaves it with the story of a American civil rights historian, Adam Zignelik. The result is an interesting retelling of the history of racism.
The story reminded me of the movie, Crash. But where Crash showed racism through violence and stereotypes, The Street Sweeper does it by retelling historical events in society that mark racism and the heroic tale of those who rise against all odds to stop it. Perlman, a historian himself, reminds us all that one of the main purposes of history is simply to be retold. He does a fantastic job of retelling so much historic detail through dialogue (Sophie’s World style).
The character, Lamont Williams finds himself out of prison but the world seems to work against him at every turn. Whether it’s because he’s poor or black or an ex-convict or just prone to bad luck, Lamont just can’t catch a break. Working as janitor at a cancer care centre, he finds himself speaking to a Jewish patient who wants to him about his experience in Auschwitz.
The details about Auschwitz are gut-wrenching. Perlman may have left details out but I found some passages difficult to read but then again, nothing about Auschwitz is ever light reading. Meanwhile on the other side of town, Zignelik is looking for the truth behind the liberation of Auschwitz and hoping it ill save the remains of his career in academia.
I highly recommend The Street Sweeper for anyone who is looking for a story that is courageous enough to tackle one of the hardest subjects in history and today: hate. Perlman reminds us all that history repeats itself unless we learn from it.