Monday, February 25, 2013
Book Review: The Rent Collector by Camron Wright (Whitney Finalist)
Author: Camron Wright
Enjoyment Rating: ****
This book would be rated: PG
I'll admit that over the last couple of years, I've had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the finalists in the general category for the Whitney Awards. On the whole, I haven't cared much for them, to put it politely. I've found that they preferred inspirational messages over good writing, and they were pretty cheesy.
So I wasn't expecting much when I started The Rent Collector. I was expecting it to be cheesy and inspirational. And the story is inspirational. Sang Ly and her husband Ki Lim live in a cardboard shack on the edge of a municipal dump in Phnom Phen, Cambodia. They subsist, just barely, by combing through the trash that arrives each day and selling what they find. Their infant son is constantly sick, and Sang Ly spends her days failing to keep her home clean and dodging the grumpy rent collector, Sopeap Sin, who's usually drunk when she stumbles over and threatens to throw the family out.
And then one day Ki Lim returns home with a book, the next day, Sopeap Sin spots the book when she comes to threaten the family, and Sang Ly sees her face change. That tiny crack in Sopeap Sin's armor sets off a series of events that changes all of their lives for the better.
So yes, the book is inspirational (and, in fact, inspired by real people living at Song Meaney, the dump). There are some problems that rankled me as I read (Sang Ly's voice, which sounds educated, even when she is an illiterate peasant, is the main one), but in general, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading the book. It's an easy read, which would make it perfect for book groups, and I think that they would find a lot to talk about-- Wright weaves in great literature, the history of the Khmer Rouge, and detailed pictures of real poverty. His characters, are complex and interesting, and I was thrilled to have a book in the general category that I might recommend to others rather than wanting to throw it against the wall when I finished it.