The Street Sweeper

A Book Review – The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

Dachau Death Camp (2)

Dachau – First Nazi Death Camp

Who should read this book?

Those who:

  • Have an inclination for historical input from the Great War and Nazi death Camps in particular.
  • Want to know about the grisly details of millions of Jews gassed to an excruciating death.
  • Would like to experience a dynamic commentary on an aspect of the American Civil Rights issue in the late ‘50’s.
  • Wish to read of viewpoints (The author states that these are, along with characters in the book, fictitious), of certain Jewish folk of the day. I am sure that there is also a measure of truth bound up in the viewpoints of the characters too.
  • Would like to experience the unfairness of legal process in condemning a young man to six years of penal incarceration and then his struggle to avoid being charged for a further wrong doing by accusers (whilst this aspect of the story is fictional, it bears weight in true facts that have been revealed of similar incidents over time).
  • Enjoy being held by a novel that demands finishing.

I only qualify on the last point and it did take me two attempts to read the novel, but because I wanted to know how it ended with Adam and Diana (I am the eternal romantic) I persisted, and I’m happy that I did.

If you are not a native New Yorker, or from Chicago, or one who is familiar with the university world of academia; you will need to persevere with the author’s description of the cultures of these locales.

As a reader, I found the ongoing switch between the actors and their different stages a little difficult and sometimes frustrating to follow. Many times I was tempted to skip a few paragraphs in order to put continuity into the flow of two different stories. However, I’m pleased to say that I exercised discipline in allowing the author to accomplish his flow of two primary tales; at first these tales were unable to coexist, and then later, they joined in delightful harmony, albeit almost at the end of the book.

There are two stages set in this novel.

Firstly there is the stage on which the story of Lamont Williams is performed. Lamont is a young African American, falsely accused of being an accomplice in an armed robbery and incarcerated in a penal institution for six years. In this story the main actor is supported by his Grandmother who raised him from childhood. His cousin Michelle also plays a support role in the story of Lamont Williams.

A co-role to Lamont is Mr Handelbrot, a man dying of cancer and a survivor of a Nazi death camp.

The second stage is occupied by a number of players.

Firstly, is Adam Zignelik, a professor of History at Columbia University and his life partner of some eight years, Diana.

Next is the ghost of Henry Border, I say ghost, because he is a long deceased professor from a University in Chicago With whom Adam spends a great deal of time in the form of following Henry’s research and journey’s to Europe and in particular the Nazi death camps.

Then there is Adam’s superior, the chairman of the History Department at Columbia University, Charles McCray. His wife is Michelle, the same Michelle who is cousin to Lamont and incidentally, the only actor who plays a part on both stages.

Then there is William McCray, the father of Charles McCray, a retired legal man and self appointed mentor to Adam.

The story in centered in New York, with several interludes by Adam, in Chicago. Finally, via the ghost of Henry Border, journeys to Europe and the Nazi death camps in particular.

The timeline of the two stages is firstly, the robbery involving Lamont, and resulting in his incarceration; His release from prison on parole and going to The Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre where gets a job, organized by his parole officer. It is here that whilst walking on eggshells, for fear of failure and being forced to return to prison, that he meets Mr Mandelbrot.

We cross stages now to Columbia University, where we get a taste of an erstwhile successful professor of history, Adam Zignelik, the author of a best seller who is slowly becoming extinct because of his stagnating academic career. Equally, he is failing in his long standing relationship with Diana, his live-in partner.

His senior, Charles McCray, is unable to motivate change in Adam on either account regarding these personal issues. He does, fortunately, pass the buck and suggest Adam talk to his father, William McCray.

William has his own motive for suggesting that Adam look into a story concerning  a detachment Of African American soldiers, whom it is said were responsible for the relief of those incarcerated in Dachau, a Nazi death camp.

William suggests that research into this story might save Adam’s wilting career and also his relationship with Diana.

Adam is not keen on such a project, although it holds the promise of a political time bomb and possibly turn out to be his salvation, it holds no interest for him.

Adam reluctantly follows up on William’s suggestion and coming to a dead end on the Dachau story, he is intrigued by some information regarding a certain Professor Henry Border, who was a researcher in Dachau, following the great war.

At this point, Adam’s relationship with Diana ends and he takes the situation badly. But it seems that with the ending of his relationship with Diana, a new relationship with the deceased Henry begins. The journey with Henry requires him to travel to the Chicago University, where the archives of the deceased professor are stored.

He undertakes the research on his painfully small budget and some borrowed money.

However the discovery of Border’s tapes and papers soon makes his investment pale by comparison.

All the while, on the other stage the relationship between Mr Mandelbrot and Lamont, is fast growing. Mandelbrot is coaching Lamont to remember all that he is revealing to him concerning the horror of the Nazi death camps. Along with this information Mr Mandelbrot gives Lamont, a gift. Mandelbrot is fast dying of cancer and he insists that Lamont accept a gift from him. Little does Lamont realize that the gift will initially have fearful consequences for him.

The coming together of the characters from the two different plays is very interesting……

That’s it! No more stories, you buy the book now. By following the Amazon link you buy; I get a small dollar commission, at no additional cost to you. – Yay!

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