Sunday, March 5, 2017

Look Beyond

Flying from Boston to Orange County, I read The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.  Good story!  It is fiction but based on a real place, Stung Meanchey.  Stung Meanchey is a dump in Cambodia.  People live in the dump.  They make a living there.  In fact, the main character is a young mother, Sang Ly, who with her husband and baby, move from her family village for a better life, scavaging in the dump.

  They have a regular routine.  Sang Ly takes care of her son and hubby scavages.  He picks metals and such and sells it.  He gets money to pay the rent on their cardboard hovel plus some for food.  Once in a while, they have a little to save.  Their savings are eaten up by medical bills because the baby has chronic diarrhea. The diarrhea goes away when he's on medicine but it always comes back when the medicine runs out.  It's a constant worry.  Also, overshadowing the little family is the rent collector.

The rent collector is a bitch on wheels.  Her demeanor is terrorizing bullying.  But one day an incident happens that alters Sang Ly and the rent collector's lives. While scavaging, the father finds a child's book and brings it home to his son.  No one can read, but he's only a baby, anyway.  They all enjoy the pictures.

The rent collector happened to see the book while collecting the rent.  What happened when she spied the book was earth shattering.  The rent collector pounced on the book like a cat on a mouse.  She snatched it up and almost kissed and hugged it.  She cried.  She wailed.  And she collapsed on the ground and read the book, hiccupping tears of joy.  She ended up taking the book, in lieu of rent.

Sang Ly had always wanted to read but never went to school.  She sweet talked and strong-armed the rent collector into teaching her to read.  In the process, Sang Ly and the rent collector developed a relationship which was based on admiration and respect, if not friendship.

Another strange thing happened.  Sang Ly (out of the blue) had a dream.  She dreamt she was in her village and the witch doctor or shaman (you know what I mean--one of those guys) was telling her to come see him to cure her son's diarrhea. Sang Ly had to act on this vision.

The family travels back to their village.  They meet the witch doctor and the baby is cured.  Meanwhile, back at the dump, the rent collector has moved.  I don't want to spoil the ending for you, except to tell you that you'll like it.

I couldn't put the story down.  It made the flight fly by.  I cried, laughed, and bit my nails.  The characterization is well drawn.  The fact that I would have never picked up a book about dump pickers were it not assigned by book club, and I literally devoured it with my eyes, tells you how good the book is.  It should be an award winner.

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