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Monday, December 17, 2012

Need a Reminder of How Blessed You Are? Read This Book.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In shanties at the edge of Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in Cambodia, lives a community of "pickers."  Every day, the people sift through Phnom Penh's garbage looking for anything of value, anything that can be sold to pay for their most basic of necessities.  It's a risky business; pickers are routinely crushed by bulldozers, pricked by dirty syringes, or robbed of their meager finds by gang members who patrol the area looking for easy targets.  Then, there's the ever-present stench, the rivers of polluted waters that stream through the place when it rains, and the trapped methane gas that creates always-burning fires.  Danger lurks in every corner of the monstrous junkyard.

As if there's not enough to worry about already at Stung Meanchey, 29-year-old Sang Ly has another problem—her only child is sick.  Sixteen-month-old Nisay suffers from constant diarrhea, a condition which leaves him both constantly dehydrated and perennially cranky.  Sang Ly has tried everything to help him, from experimenting with traditional cures to buying medicine from foreign doctors.  The pills help—until Sang Ly's supply runs out.  If only she and her husband, Ki Lim, could make enough money to buy enough medicine, then maybe Nisay would be cured.  But money's not an easy thing to come by in a place like Stung Meanchey.  Especially when The Cow, their demanding landlord, takes her fair share and more.

Sang Ly doesn't dare to dream of a life beyond the garbage dump where she's lived for so long, but when she's given a battered, yet still beautiful picture book, hope surges into her heart.  Hope for Nisay, for the future she might still be able to give him in spite of her bleak surroundings and meager resources.  Surely if the child can learn to read, he can leave Stung Meanchey's trash mountains behind.  He could go to school, find a good job and make a better life for himself.  But how to accomplish such a task when no one Sang Ly knows can read well enough to pick out the letters of their own names?

When the desperate mother discovers her landlord's shocking secret, she sees a miraculous solution to her problem.  If only Sang Ly can convince the hardhearted woman to help her.  The Cow has never helped anyone but herself, but stranger things have happened at Stung Meanchey and, with the life of her child hanging in the balance, Sang Ly knows she must do anything she can.  Even begging for aid from the most unlikely of sources.

Based on the experiences of a real Cambodian family, The Rent Collector by Camron Wright tells an incredible tale.  It's a story of survival, hope and a mother's refusal to give up on her child's present or future.  From its hard-to-stomach setting to its memorable characters to the powerful messages it imparts, The Rent Collector is touching without being sentimental.  Sure, Sang Ly's narrative voice sounds a little too American, but still, the book opened my eyes, moving me to tears—of gratitude, of appreciation, of empathy.  I read the novel at Thanksgiving time and nothing, perhaps, could have made me more grateful for the many advantages and blessings I've been given.  If you're feeling low this holiday season or if you just need a story that entertains and inspires, buy a copy of The Rent Collector today.  You'll enjoy the read and your purchase will help a Cambodian child in need (10% of the book's royalties will be donated to the Cambodian Children's Fund [CCF]).  Talk about a win-win.

I don't love book trailers, but this one offers a peek into a world that just boggles my mind:

This one, which was filmed by Camron Wright's son, shows more of the reality behind the fiction:

For more information, please visit the book's website as well as River of Victory.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs), violence and a little bit of sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Rent Collector from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. I want to read this one. I think it would broaden my world view and like you said, remind me how blessed I am. I really like the cover art and the title is compelling.


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