This is an epic novel. I had to keep reminding myself that it was fiction as it touches on so many real issues that it begins to feel more like a true story.
It took me a while to warm to Lamont but I admired his dedication to putting his life back on track after it was knocked off the rails by the selfish actions of others. I particularly love the story in part 2 of Elizabeth Eckford. It was so moving. The scene outside the school was filled with an overwhelming tension that was palpable. The fear and hatred just jumps right off the page.
Mr Mandelbrot’s story was heart-wrenchingly vivid. The descriptive text in the section about the Crematoria in Auschwitz is so brutally real that I felt my breath get stolen away for a moment.
I never really got around to liking Adam though. I found him a little insipid for my tastes, he is probably meant to come across that way, but it does make him less likable to me.
The writing is very clever and I love the interconnectedness throughout the book. Seemingly random characters that are actually all connected in a six-degrees-of-separation kind of way. The way the story ended was not what I was expecting but it was a good ending that makes you think and leaves you wondering at how their stories continue.
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.