The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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.
The Rent Collector belongs to many genres. The story gives the reader a basic history of Cambodia and life under the dictatorship of Pol Pot. What the reader needs to know is that Cambodia has been a country void of hope and joy for a very long time. When the Khmer Rouge declared victory, the country welcomed the end of civil war, not understanding the cost of peace. Although the book does not mention it, Pol Pot is viewed by many to be the Cambodian equivalent of Hitler. His reign lasted four years. Estimates vary, but at least 2.2 million people died in Cambodia, including intellectuals, teachers, and anyone that could be found to be literate.
It is not common to find a literate adult Cambodia today. Living conditions are often dangerous and disease and malnutrition rampant. Even knowing these things about Cambodia, I still struggled with the idea of living in a dump. I think the story is in the strength of the people who live day to day in Cambodia. I struggled with the literature part of the story. It was an interesting concept to add but it felt contrived. The last story didn't pack the punch to end it.
The real story was how to find happiness and joy wherever you are. The secondary story of literacy, although relevant, didn't do much for me. The other secondary story of the book - redemption, forgiveness, and survival carried me through to the end. I am deeply interested in viewing the author's son's documentary on living in a Cambodia Dump.