March 9, 2013

The Rent Collector


I'll tell you this much: after reading Camron Wright's The Rent Collector, I'll never again use the phrase "my place is a dump."  And that's because the protagonist of the book, Sang Ly, literally lives in Stung Meanchey--a dump in Cambodia.

Her son, Nisay, has been sick for quite a while and not much seems to help him.  Her husband, Ki Lim, finds himself wanting to fight gangs that roam the dump.  And she wants to find a way to make things better: her son and their life.

The eponymous character, Sopeap Sin, is a drunk: but Sang Ly realizes something very important one day when the rent collector comes by.  She's a drunk who knows how to read, and Sang Ly wants to learn.

Simple lessons in writing give way to reading; after reading, lessons in literature begin.  All the while, Sang Ly slowly comes to learn that the rent collector isn't at all what she first appeared to be.

It's a book about different ways of fighting toward better circumstances, of the ways in which stories can help us learn about one another and about ourselves.  But it's also a book about how stories can also complicate our lives: not long after Sang Ly starts the literature portion of her lessons, she finds herself thinking that she's starting to understand things and then promptly becoming confused by them.

But it's also a book about hope and about redemption, about making the best of things within your circumstances instead of outside them. 

In short, I suppose it's a book of many lessons precisely because it's a book steeped in the love of other stories and other books: and that's, after all, what good books do--they teach us.  Just as the rent collector teaches Sang Ly.

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