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. The framework of the novel is the relationship between Lamont Williams, a black ex-con trying to rebuild his life as a hospital janitor, and an old man in the same hospital, who’s dying of cancer and who wants to share his memories of Auschwitz. But we also follow the fortunes of a young Jewish historian researching the role played by a black regiment in the liberation of a Nazi death camp. Perhaps 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.