About The Author
Elliot Perlman was born in Melbourne, where he still lives. He started his career as a barrister, but after winning a short story competition at the age of 30, he turned to writing fiction.
His first novel, Three Dollars, was published in 1998 and won a Betty Trask Award as well as being shortlisted for Australia's prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Following the struggles of a professional family man in severely reduced circumstances, it was adapted for the cinema in 2005. This was followed by a collection of short stories entitled The Reasons I Won't Be Coming in 1999.
Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 2003, was the story of a school teacher whose obsessive love drives him to kidnap the son of the woman he loves; it was shortlisted for several major literary prizes.
His latest novel is The Street Sweeper, a tour de force which spans over 50 years and tells the story of an African American ex-convict and his unlikely friendship with a Holocaust survivor, while dealing with themes of memory, persecution, racism and unexpected kindness.
Below, is Elliot's description of what inspired him to write the novel.
The Author At Foyles
The Writing of The Street Sweeper
In the early 2000s I was living in New York across the street from the mini-metropolis that is Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Patients came to the giant hospital from all over the world for treatment there. Visitors, bewildered, sad or numb, came from all over the world too.
I used to catch the bus at a stop outside the hospital and see the hive of activity and the interaction of seemingly disparate people of different ages, socio-economic groups and educational levels, people of different races, ethnicities and nationalities, all milling around each other. So stressed were the visitors and many of the staff that they chain-smoked to alleviate their stress out on the street besides patients in wheelchairs.
To a writer observing this scene, the multitude of smokers outside the cancer hospital, people of all different backgrounds forming an instant but transient community, all of this is the gold that sends one off in search of the goldmine that is the answer to the question, "What if an unlikely friendship was to blossom out of all of this?"
From here came the answer that was the seed for The Street Sweeper. We see the beginning of an unlikely relationship between two men who, statistically should never have met. One of them is an African American janitor, a wrongly-convicted recently released ex-con, the first ex-con to be put on six month probation in a pilot program to help ex-cons re-integrate into society, a man desperate to keep his job, find his young daughter and get his life back on track. The other is an old white man battling cancer, a Jew in his eighties with only wisps of hair and thick European-accented English, a Holocaust survivor. He's a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and even rarer than that, he was a member of the Sonderkommando, those Auschwitz prisoners forced by the Nazis on pain of immediate death to work in the gas chambers and crematoria.
In a 21st century survival story these two men will need each other in ways neither of them could ever have imagined. And this is only the beginning. Two very different paths lead to one greater story of survival as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with the civil rights struggle and the Holocaust, spans the 20th Century to the present and the globe from New York to Chicago, Warsaw, Berlin and Auschwitz.
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