The Street Sweeper

by Elizabeth


In honor of the release of The Street Sweeper in paperback, we are reprinting my review from the hardcover release last year. We also have a giveaway, so after you read the review, if you’re interested, just leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win!

The Street Sweeper reminds me, organizationally, of looking at the back of a piece of embroidery. There are plots and story-lines running everywhere, and at first it feels chaotic. However, by the end, you are looking in awe at a beautifully-finished piece of story-telling. This is an awesome book, well worth the time commitment required for its 600+ pages.

The book is a novel, but it packs in a huge amount of 20th-century history. The story follows two young men, both living in New York, both representing to various degrees the past of their people; however, the plot also follows for periods of time a Jewish professor who claimed to be Episcopalian in order to get a job in 1940s Chicago, a young Jewish girl in Poland in the years just before WW2 and then later in the camps, a beautiful black social worker whose marriage is crumbling, and many many more.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Lamont Williams, a young black man recently released from prison after serving his sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Lamont is a fundamentally decent man who more than anything lacks self-confidence. He lives with his grandmother, and wants desperately to find his daughter, now 8, whom he hasn’t seen since she was 2. He has been given an opportunity—a job in Building Services at Sloan-Kettering Cancer hospital, where he is on probation for six months. During his first week on the job, a patient who’s been left out on the sidewalk insists that Lamont help him return to his room. Lamont does so, and a reluctant friendship springs up between the two. The patient, a survivor of Auschwitz, insists on telling Lamont his story, and has Lamont repeat it until he has it memorized, learning the difference between death camps and concentration camps, and about inside uprisings at Auschwitz. Shortly before his death, he gives Lamont a present, and you don’t need the gift of prophecy to foretell that will spell trouble for him.

The other main character is Adam Zegnelik, whose career as a history professor at Columbia is on rocky ground, and who is struggling out of the great shadow cast by his father, a Jewish lawyer who was hugely instrumental in the civil rights movement. When we first meet him, Adam is lying awake at night reliving moments in black American history—the desegregation of schools and how terrifying it was for the first black students in white schools, the 1963 church bombing that killed 4 black girls, and more. He is paralyzed by the future, and breaks up with his long-term girlfriend because he knows he won’t make tenure. His life turns around when he discovers a huge cache of first-person interviews with Holocaust survivors in refugee camps.

“Tell everyone what happened here,” says one of the women. “Tell everyone what happened here,” says Lamont at one point after he is false accused, yet again, of crimes he hasn’t committed. The Street Sweeper moves between vantage points and times, but it is ultimately a story of connection, of human beings, of unimaginable crimes but also of small beauties and justice. It’s an incredible book.

Leave a comment if you want to win. We’ll announce the winner on February 27.
The Giveaway is CLOSED.

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Elizabeth enjoys learning history through novels. This one made her thankful for the times and place in which she lives. Learn more at her blog Planet Nomad.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wehaf February 10, 2013 at 10:19 am

This sounds fascinating; I’d love to win.


2 nfmgirl February 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

It sounds interesting, and has received great reviews. Thanks!
nfmgirl recently posted..REVIEW: Backyard Foraging by Ellen ZachosMy Profile


3 Liz V. February 10, 2013 at 11:19 am

Thanks for the giveaway for a great sounding book.


4 pearl February 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Thanks for featuring this fascinating novel.


5 ellie February 10, 2013 at 1:48 pm

This book interests me very much. thanks.


6 Jenna Evans February 10, 2013 at 2:50 pm

This sounds like a great book! I would love to read this. Thanks for the giveaway!


7 Angie February 10, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I am putting this book on my too read list. Thanks for the review.


8 diane February 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm

A great story. I would enjoy this memorable book.


9 Cindy Brooks February 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm

I’ve had this on my wish list, thank you for a chance to win a copy. I’m happy to hear it’s out in paperback.


10 Marjorie February 10, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Wow and I mean wow, what a fantastic storyline, this book does sound amazing from reading your review.
I would love to read it.


11 amyc February 10, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Sounds like a fascinating read.


12 Sandra K321 February 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm

I would enjoy reading this since I love historical fiction. Thanks.


13 riTa February 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm

The historic context interests me.
riTa recently posted..2013 Week 6: Birthdays, Memorials and In-BetweenMy Profile


14 debbie February 11, 2013 at 7:10 am

The book sounds like it has a great plot to it it. I would love to read it.


15 Garrett February 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

Wow, this book sounds so good.


16 Katie February 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Sounds like a great book!


17 Carol Wong February 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

This sounds so entrancing! I read a lot of Jewish Historical Fiction so I am really atracted to this book. I really love that he did a lot of interviews with Holocaust Survivors.



18 Amy February 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Sign me up! Sounds intriguing!
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19 Cyndi February 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I love historical fiction and this sounds like a great story! Looks like one for the book club list.


20 Jeanna February 12, 2013 at 10:43 am

This sounds like a great read!


21 Van February 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

This one sounds good.


22 Barb: 1SentenceDiary February 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Oooooh, this sounds like *another* good one for my bookclub. :-)


23 Chuck February 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

My wife would like this one.


24 Staci A February 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

It sounds very interesting!


25 Margaret February 17, 2013 at 12:37 pm

This sounds fantastic! I would love to read it!


26 Anita Yancey February 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Sounds like a very interesting read. I would love the history in this book.


27 Jennifer February 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm

You win, Anita! Please reply to this email with your shipping address.
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28 Cindi February 18, 2013 at 7:38 pm

I adore the cultures and story lines behind
this book! I would certainly enjoy reading
it right in front of our fireplace, late in
the evening for my alone time…
Many thanks, Cindi


29 June February 19, 2013 at 10:52 am

Would enjoy reading this one too.


30 Garrett February 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I like reading about things of the past.


31 Lori D. February 25, 2013 at 11:03 am

This book sounds amazing to me.


32 Don February 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm

My wife would like to read this one.


33 Angela E. February 26, 2013 at 8:15 pm

This one sounds very interesting.


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