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New civil rights book rife with “parallels, intersections and coincidence”

The Street Sweeper

Elliot Perlman
Riverhead, $28.95

5 STARS

“The Street Sweeper” tells the stories of two men whose lives would seem to have little to do with each other. Lamont Williams is an African American recently released from prison after serving six years for an armed robbery in which he was only tangentially involved. Adam Zignelik, son of a legendary Jewish civil rights lawyer, teaches history at Columbia University, where his professional and personal lives are not doing well.

Lamont works at a New York hospital, doing menial work, where he meets an elderly Holocaust survivor who tells him horrifying stories about working in a concentration camp, preparing prisoners for the gas chambers and then disposing of their bodies.

At Columbia, Adam’s friend and boss is Charles McCray, the history department’s first African American chairman. Charles’ father, a successful and well-known African American attorney and civil rights activist, convinces Adam to research the role of black troops in liberating Dachau, a suggestion that leads him to Chicago. There, he discovers forgotten interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted shortly after the end of World War II.

“The Street Sweeper” is rife with parallels, intersections and coincidences. Its crisscrossing plotlines can at times dull the novel’s dramatic impact, and the subplots that Perlman does not satisfactorily resolve leave the impression that the novel has been edited down from a much longer manuscript.” Adam Langer, for the Washington Post