A journey of hope from the depths of a garbage dump into the magical world of literature.
Title: The Rent Collector
Author: Camron Wright
Survival for Ki Lim and Sang Ly is a daily battle at Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in all of Cambodia. They make their living scavenging recyclables from the trash. Life would be hard enough without the worry for their chronically ill child, Nisay, and the added expense of medicines that are not working. Just when things seem worst, Sang Ly learns a secret about the bad-tempered rent collector who comes demanding money–a secret that sets in motion a tide that will change the life of everyone it sweeps past. The Rent Collector is a story of hope, of one woman’s journey to save her son and another woman’s chance at redemption.
What I Liked:
I loved the idea of literacy raising people up. Up until Christmas I’d been volunteering with my local library teaching adult literacy for the last 4+ years, so obviously this is something close to my heart!
In North America being able to read and having a knowledge base of stories is just something we take for granted, so it was interesting to read about someone experiencing literature for the first time. Can you imagine hearing the story of Cinderella for the first time as an adult? Magical!
Sopeap was just such a lovely character. I always looked forward to what she had to say, be it either her favourite quotes (which were varied and interesting) or when she would philosophize for Sang Ly.
I really liked the Cambodian folk tales. I was glad he included those. They not only contributed to world-building but were fascinating!
I appreciated learning about Cambodia and its history. I knew a bit about the Khmer Rouge but this definitely expanded my knowledge base and prompted me to do some research afterwards. I love when books make me want to know more.
While not everyone liked the ending for the Rent Collector herself I thought it was beautifully fitting. A little on the corny side, for sure, but it suited the tone of the book.
I’ll admit I didn’t like the ending for Sang Ly and her family. But that’s all I’ll say!
What I Didn’t Like:
I felt as though Sang Ly herself wasn’t a convincing character. For a supposedly illiterate girl from the middle of Podunk, Cambodia, she certainly had quite the vocabulary. Except when she didn’t. There were several instances of her not understanding terms used by her teacher, and then on the next page using words equally or even more complex. That pulled me out of the story and that’s never what you want as a reader.
A character was introduced, dealt with, and discarded before I even really realized she was there. Character development on the whole just needed a little bit more.
This was a book club book! I enjoyed it as a book club read. It made for an interesting discussion and everyone had something to say about it, which sometimes doesn’t happen.
Here’s some thoughts from a couple of my group members:
Crystal: I loved the book! I’ve never rated a book before, so I’m not really sure how that works… But maybe a 7.5/10? I loved that one of the themes I got from it was that sometimes your situation may not change much or get that much better, but that you can enjoy your life at whatever stage you are in, and find ways to see the happiness in life. I also liked the love of literature, and how it was presented as something that’s meaningful to you, regardless of whether or not it’s “literature” to someone else.
Erin (Other Erin) (Erin 2.0?) (Actually she’s older than me, so does that make me Erin 2.0 and her just Erin?) (Erin H. We’ll go with that): I would rate it 6/10. I enjoyed reading it for the most part, but I feel like something was off. I don’t know if it was the male author speaking in first person as a female, or if it was that I couldn’t get over the fact the characters were real but fictional events were happening to them, causing me to have false hopes of happiness for their futures. I felt like it would be if someone wrote a story about me and my life, but had me winning the lottery in it, or getting a PhD. Those things wouldn’t be my life, so how does Sang Ly feel about her life being turned into a fantasy story? I think the author would have done better for me to have had fictional characters.
I was glad to find a page dedicated to helping Sang Ly and her family! Among other things the author paid Sang Ly to autograph bookmarks that were included in certain books that were sold. Some of the proceeds from the book go towards helping people living in Stung Meanchey.
If you’d like to learn more you can check out this page:
From Dump to Dickens! A literary journey through a Cambodian trash heap.
(Buy it here and I’ll get a small percentage!)