Elliot Perlman chats to Toni Whitmont about his new book, The Street Sweeper

by |September 29, 2011

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

From the scars of the civil rights struggle in the United States to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are even more stories than there are people passing each other every day on the crowded streets of any major city. Only some of these stories survive to become history.

Adam Zignelik, an almost 40-year-old untenured academic historian at New York’s Columbia University, is the son of a prominent American civil rights lawyer and an Australian mother. One of his late father’s closest friends had been the African American civil rights activist, William McCray. Since the death of Adam’s parents it is the McCray family – William, his son Charles (Chair of History at Columbia) and Charles’ wife – that has become Adam’s adopted family.

With Adam’s career and his relationship with his long-time girlfriend in crisis, he gets a suggestion for a promising research topic from William McCray, who is a World War II veteran, that just might save him professionally and even personally.

Entirely fortuitously, Charles McCray’s wife’s cousin, 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).

Two very different paths – Adam’s and Lamont’s – lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, racism, genocide and the human capacity for guilt, resilience, astonishing heroism and unexpected kindness, spans the 20th Century to the present and the globe from New York to Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, Berlin and Auschwitz.

Pre-order your copy of The Street Sweeper from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop – click here

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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