The Rent Collector
By Camron Wright
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 2012
by Shadow Mountain
Book Source: Publisher
Book Summary from Goodreads: 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.
Cathy’s review: Sang Ly lives with her husband Ki Lim and their son Nisay in the most unimaginable place for them to live, Stung Meanchey, a huge dump located in Cambodia. They are lucky to have a nice house to live in. Their house has 3 walls and they use a canvas tarp for the 4th. In order to get money, Sang Ly and Ki Lim must pick through the trash in the dump looking for recyclables to sell. This is a hard life, made harder by the fact that Nisay is a very sick little boy. He has almost constant diarrhea, that Sang Ly must scrub off of him and off of their home every day. To her, it’s not inconvenient, it’s just life. They have no running water, no electricity. And to add to the injustice of this, they must pay rent every month, to a woman that those living in the dump call a “Cow”, known in the beginning of the story as simply, The Rent Collector. This woman is perpetually drunk and she’s not known for being nice, in fact, she threatens at the very beginning of this book to kick out Sang Ly and her family for not paying all of their rent at the same time, even though their money had gone to buy more medicine for Nisay. When The Rent Collector, Sopeap Sin comes back for the money, Sang Ly knows they are going to be kicked out, they can’t pay now, because Ki Lim had been attacked by a gang and had to go to the doctor to be fixed up, but the oddest thing happens. Sopeap sees a book in Sang Ly’s house and asks to take it, Sang Ly can tell that she can read it by the way her eyes move and Sang Ly knows that if she can get Sopeap Sin to teach her, she can make a better life for Nisay. Thus begins a very unlikely friendship between two very different women, that will change both of their lives.
This book really touched me. I had no idea that people actually lived in deplorable places like a dump before reading this. This book is a novel, but it’s based on the life of the true Sang Ly. I love Sang Ly and the others that inhabit the dump. I love how they are thrilled to have a place to live, even though it’s filled with garbage and infested with disease. I love how they keep trying to do all they need to do, for me I think it would get so overwhelming to try to get enough garbage to pay the rent every month. I love Sang Ly’s attitude, she really has nothing, but she’s so willing to help others. I want to be more like her, to be grateful for what I do have and not concerned with what I don’t.
I was really touched by something that Sang Ly’s Auntie said, so I’ll share it with you. Sang Ly has returned to the place where she grew up where her aunt and uncle live. She loves the change of scenery from the dump and says she would love to stay in the city where she grew up because the dump is ugly. Her Auntie replies, “…Remember, the province, though beautiful, has it’s own pockets of ugliness. While the dump is ugly, it also has pockets of beauty. I think finding beauty in either place simply depends on where you decide to stand.” That’s what I hope I can take from this book, if I can’t find beauty where I’m standing, maybe I simply need to change my vantage point until I can.
Content: A few mild swear words, violence in the dump