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  • Published: 3 October 2011
  • ISBN: 9781741666175
  • Imprint: Vintage Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 576
  • RRP: $32.99

The Street Sweeper

'Excellent... Harrowing, humane and brilliant.' - The Times (UK)

'Excellent... Harrowing, humane and brilliant.' - The Times (UK)How breathtakingly close we are to lives that at first seem so far away.

From the civil rights struggle in the United States to the Nazi crimes against humanity in Europe, there are more stories than people passing each other every day on the bustling streets of every crowded city. Only some survive to become history.

Recently released from prison, Lamont Williams, an African American probationary janitor in a Manhattan hospital and father of a little girl he can't locate, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly patient, a Holocaust survivor who had been a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A few kilometres uptown, Australian historian Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor, finds both his career and his long-term romantic relationship falling apart. Emerging out of the depths of his own personal history, Adam sees, in a promising research topic suggested by an American World War II veteran, the beginnings of something that might just save him professionally and perhaps even personally.

As these two men try to survive in early twenty-first-century New York, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Two very different paths - Lamont's and Adam's - lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, love, guilt, heroism, the extremes of racism and unexpected kindness, spans the twentieth century to the present, and spans the globe from New York to Melbourne, Chicago to Auschwitz.

Epic in scope, this is a remarkable feat of storytelling.

  • Published: 3 October 2011
  • ISBN: 9781741666175
  • Imprint: Vintage Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 576
  • RRP: $32.99

About the author

Elliot Perlman

Elliot Perlman’s Three Dollars won the Age Book of the Year Award, the Betty Trask Award (UK), the Fellowship of Australian Writers' Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn-Rhys/Mail On Sunday Book of the Year Award (UK) as well as for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Elliot Perlman also co-wrote the screenplay for the film of Three Dollars, which received the Australian Film Critics' Circle Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as the A.F.I. Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Reasons I Won't Be Coming, a collection of stories, was a bestseller in the US where it was named a New York Times Book Review 'Editors' Choice' and received the Steele Rudd Award for the best Australian short story collection in its year of publication.

Perlman's second novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity, was a bestseller in France where it was described as 'one of the best novels of recent years, a complete success'(Le Monde). In Germany it was called a 'literary sensation' (Deutschlandradio), 'an impressive, iridescent all-encompassing view of feeling' (Der Spiegel), and described as having "the virtues of the great modern European novel' (Süddeutsche Zeitung). It was a bestseller in the United States where it was described as having 'traces of Dickens's range and of George Eliot's generous humanist spirit' (New York Times) and named a New York Times Book Review 'Editors' Choice', a New York Times Book Review 'Notable Book of the Year' and a Washington Post 'Editors' Choice' as well as one of its all-time dozen favourites 'on the pain of love'. In the UK it was described as 'a colossal achievement….a tour de force…(in which) at the end, in a comprehensive, an almost Shakespearian way, Perlman picks up every loose thread and knots it' (The Observer) and named a Sunday Telegraph 'Book of the Year'. In Australia it was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award as well as for the Queensland Premier's Award for Fiction.

Perlman’s bestselling The Street Sweeper, ‘Excellent . . . harrowing, humane and brilliant’ (The Times (UK)) ‘[is] a towering achievement: a strikingly modern literary novel.’ (Entertainment Weekly (US)) ‘. . . an epic tale that spans decades and bridges generations while chronicling the predominant chapters of racial persecution perpetrated in the darkest hours of the twentieth century . . . [wherein Perlman] shines a fresh light on the struggle of the American civil rights movement . . . The narrative pull is breathtaking [as he] pulls off the supreme feat of articulating the unspeakable . . . This stunning novel works and matters, because of the expert way Perlman has recorded both the agonized howl of the past and the plaintive echoes of the present’ (San Francisco Chronicle) in ‘[a] wonderfully rich, engaging and multilayered story . . . [from] an author of rare erudition and compassion.’ (The Washington Post) ‘[Perlman] brilliantly makes personal both the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, and crafts a moving and literate page-turner.’ (Publishers Weekly (starred review)) ‘[Here] Perlman burnishes his reputation as a masterful storyteller who captures the cadences of consciousness and conversation and the varieties and vagaries of cruelty, courage and compassion . . . You will, in all likelihood, find it unforgettable.’ (Jerusalem Post)

Elliot Perlman’s first novel for children, The Adventures of Catvinkle, ‘[is] an instant children’s classic, that you enjoy as much as the little ones you know, and that you start giving as a gift because of its inherent, feel-good message.’ (Sunday Age) ‘[A] charming and whimsical tale . . . [replete with] gentle lessons . . . about empathy, bravery and friendship . . . [a] simply a delightful and easy-to-read story with laugh-out-loud dialogue that doesn’t talk down to its readers.’ (Books+Publishing) ‘ . . . exactly the sort of book I loved being given as a child, a book you can cherish,’ (Sydney Morning Herald) ‘[where] themes of social inclusion, anti-racism and anti-bullying are treated gently in this delightful, easy-to-read story . . . [and t]here are many quirky, humorous moments . . .’ (Magpies)‘A gorgeous book guaranteed to give great joy.’ (Better Reading) The Adventures of Catvinkle was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book 2019, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Children’s Peace Literature Award.

Perlman’s Maybe the Horse Will Talk ‘[is a] thriller-like, stylish, compelling novel [that] manages at once to limn injustices wrought by corporate acquisitiveness, misogyny and discrimination, and to affirm the transformative capacity of empathy. And while there is a deep and steady seriousness . . . it is also funny as well as exhilarating and humane, pitching longing, love and kindness hopefully and inspiringly against violence.’ (Weekend Australian) [A] timely look at sexual harassment and corporate corruption that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny’ (Sydney Morning Herald) where ‘[t]he novelist’s mastery of the sentence is on full display in the rapid-fire dialogue between his characters . . . If Maybe the Horse will Talk stands apart in Perlman’s oeuvre for its intention to make readers smile, it continues the author’s interest in addressing social concerns through fiction.’ (The Saturday Age)

Elliot Perlman is the recipient of the Queensland Premier’s award for Advancing Public Debate and has been described by the Times Literary Supplement (UK) as ‘Australia’s outstanding social novelist’, by Le Nouvelle Observateur (France) as the ‘Zola d’Australie’ and by Lire (France) as ‘the classic of tomorrow’, one of the ‘50 most important writers in the world’.

Catvinkle and the Missing Tulips, a novel for children and a sequel to The Adventures of Catvinkle, is scheduled for publication in October 2020.

Also by Elliot Perlman

See all

Praise for The Street Sweeper

The Street Sweeper is a big book, a brave book, a humane and liberal book in a period of history when those values are being derided by conservatives of several schools

Don Anderson, Australian Book Review

...In heartbreaking detail, this emotional novel offers a fascinating insight into the best and worst of human nature, memory, racism and heroism. Perlman, an acclaimed Australian author, is fast developing a reputation as a modern literary master. And it is well deserved.

Madison Australia

A heartless doctor, a street sweeper, a stalled academic, an old man with a story to tell that outranks all our present day concerns, engage with one another in this spellbinding novel. Today we are too busy and too distracted to tell or hear a story, to find or be a listener with all the time in the world. Thus knowledge vanishes as memory fades and life comes to an end. This is a book to be read in a quiet place and slowly

Annabel Lawson, Australian Country Style

The Street Sweeper's fiction is grounded in facts, and facts of the most momentous kind

Don Anderson, Australian Book Review

This is absolutely the best fiction book I have read this year. I loved every minute of it even though at times it made me gasp for breath (to the extent that I was asked at the train station if I was OK). I can't get out of my head some of these images and even if these stories are not even remotely connected to my personal memories in some way they are now my personal memories. The narrative is gripping, the characters are moving but what I love the most is the sense of people (often quite ordinary people). Being part of history, making it into a living, breathing fabric of memories, is something we all have the responsibility of remembering and sharing, of making sure that "we tell everyone what happened there" and to these people so their unimaginable suffering, pain and heroism is never ever forgotten, is central. I also loved all the incredible interrelations between stories, the fact that the author was able to bring all these cultures, backgrounds and religions together, united in a simple human understanding of one another, while telling and sharing the stories about the great divide that was created by just the same kind of human beings. There is truly an amazing sense of connection in this book which really makes one walk away from the experience of reading it shaken but still very hopeful.

Anna O'Grady, Category Manager Books, LS Travel Retail Pacific

Wonderfully rich, engaging and multilayered.

Washington Post

An expertly told novel of life in immigrant America - and of the terrible events left behind in the old country... Perlman's long tale, spanning decades, is suspenseful and perfectly told in many voices, without a false note. It deals with big issues of memory, race, human fallibilities and the will to survive against the odds.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Street Sweeper, Elliot Perlman's monumental and, at times, mesmerizing novel, is a meditation of memory - and its relationship to history... [Here] Perlman burnishes his reputation as a masterful storyteller who captures the cadences of consciousness and conversation and the varieties and vagaries of cruelty, courage and compassion... You will, in all likelihood, find it unforgettable.

Jerusalem Post

Excellent...Harrowing, humane and brilliant.

The Times (UK)

Perlman deftly navigates... complicated waters, moving back and forth in time without having to take narrative responsibility for the course of history. In so doing, he brilliantly makes personal both the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, and crafts a moving and literate page-turner.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Humane, compelling and convincing... artfully constructed and well written.

Sunday Times (UK)

The connections are resonant and meaningful... in a novel that is both grandly conceived and minutely constructed... The Street Sweeper is an impressive literary achievement, complex in its organization, meticulous in its plotting and deeply satisfying in its emotional payoffs.

Wall Street Journal

The Australian novelist Elliot Perlman does what all good novelists do: reports on the trials of being human in a world that wishes to frustrate every good deed and punishes with consummate cruelty every sin, however slight ... Epic is a word that one must use carefully. But this is an epic, in scope and moral seriousness ... Perlman offers an affecting meditation on memory itself, on storytelling as an act of healing. Lamont and Zignelik, as characters, seem much less important than the terrifying stories they absorb.

The Guardian

This epic about racial persecution employs similar techniques [to Seven Types of Ambiguity] but scales up the ambition, suggesting that Perlman is gunning here for a career-defining third novel... The interleaved sequences set in Nazi Germany and Fifties America are so searingly potent ... As he depicts both the kindnesses and the unspeakable cruelties of the concentration camps, Perlman fleshes out his research with a moral and imaginative force that feels revelatory. ... at its best it demonstrates how history and fiction can converge to tell stories that cry out to be remembered.

The Telegraph (UK)

A big, bold international work with a piercing moral sense ... Striking and enlightening ... The novel illuminates the small acts of individual kindness, memory and compassion which must stand against the human capacity for cruelty and inhumanity.

Prospect (UK)

Perlman's story of modern New York is a big book in every sense. Huge in its scope, it covers two of the most searingly painful aspects of 20th century history: the Holocaust and the abuse of African-Americans' rights ... Perlman's greatest achievement though, is the sharply drawn New York world - from the slums of the Bronx to Columbia University, from Iranian immigrants to civil-rights lawyers. All are vividly brought to life in an often extremely moving book.

Readers Digest (UK)

Awards & recognition

ALS Gold Medal Award

Shortlisted  •  2011  •  ALS Gold Medal Award

Miles Franklin Award

Longlisted  •  2011  •  Miles Franklin Award

WA Premiers Literary Award

Shortlisted  •  2012  •  WA Premiers Literary Award

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