Thursday, August 22, 2013

"The Rent Collector" by Camron Wright

The Cow.  She is one of the most despised and dreaded persons at the Stung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she collects rent from the people living in flimsy dwellings within the dump.  Living in a dump?!  Yes, where human waste, toxic pollutants and trash combine, the underprivileged masses live and work.  They sort through the mounds of refuse for items that are of worth to scrap collectors.  They get enough money to buy food from the vendors near the dump, and enough money to pay The Cow in exchange for the right to sleep in the confines of Stung Meanchey.

Another woman resides in the dump, Sang Ly.  She lives there with her husband and sick little boy.  She detests The Cow (named Sopeap), not because she must give her precious rent money every month, but because The Cow is rude, heartless, and demanding.  But one day The Cow spots something in Sang Ly's shack:  a book that had been found in the dump that the illiterate Sang Ly kept for the pictures to show her son.  At the site of the book Sopeap moans and cries, leaving Sang Ly disturbed by this unfamiliar version of the dreaded rent collector.  Sang Ly offers the ugly old woman the book, and as The Cow quietly shuffles away, Sang Ly has an epiphany:  Sopeap can read!  Sang Ly strikes a deal with the prickly Sopeap for reading lessons, and thus begins a beautiful exploration of a human mind into the world of literature, and the truth of Sopeap's past.

There are also parallels between this book and "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" that thrilled me.

For anyone who enjoys reading as much as I do, this story about someone discovering not only how to read but how reading literature can change one's soul will be an enlightening experience.  This is not a true story but it is based on real individuals in Cambodia.  Camron Wright's son filmed a documentary called "River of Victory" about the people living in Stung Meanchey, and this story evolved from that film.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
~"Sometimes broken things deserve to be repaired."
~"Sang Ly, we are literature--our lives, our hopes, our desires, our despairs, our passions, our strengths, our weaknesses.  Stories express our longing not only to make a difference today but to see what is possible for tomorrow.  Literature has been called a handbook for the art of being human."
~"Whether we like it or not, hope is written so deeply into our hearts that we just can't help ourselves, no matter how hard we try.  We love the story because we are ... Cinderella."
~"It doesn't matter where you live, Sang Ly, it is how you live."
~"Fear will flee.  You will always wake up when morning comes."
~"I still awake every morning to a dump that is smoky, but through the smoke, I've seen some of the most amazing sunsets."

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