AUTHOR: Camron Wright
The Rent Collector is about a family who lives in a waste dump called Stung Meanchey in Cambodia. The wife and mother in the story, Sang Ly, learns to read and write, taking lessons from a surprising source. The overall message centers on finding hope and redemption in unlikely places. The characters and locations are real, but Camron Wright has written a fictional story based on the simple question, “What if someone in Stung Meanchey learned to read and write?”
Parts I liked best:
- This book was an eye opener for me. On a global scale, it would be an understatement to say, “I don’t get out much.” However, I love learning about other people and places and becoming aware of how culturally rich the earth is. This is not the season for me to be experiencing these things personally, so reading about them is the next best thing. It’s a fictional story, but it’s based on real people who honestly make their living picking through trash at a dump in Cambodia. The families live in shacks where they eat, breathe, and sleep not far from mountains of trash and waste. This peek into the life of a poor family in a poor country gave me a needed dose of humility, gratitude, and charity.
- Learning to love literature is a major theme in this book. As Sang Ly has her lessons, the reader gains wonderful insights into lessons about literature right along with her. At one point, the author quotes an American novelist, John Heller, saying, “They knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it” (pg. 90). Sang Ly illustrates the self-discovery that can come from peeling back a story layer by layer.
- The story really focuses on the power of meaningful relationships. Sang Ly has a solid, healthy marriage. She and her husband wrestle through conflicts and solve problems together, and at the end of the day they are devoted to each other. This aspect of the book could be a great springboard for discussion with a teenager. Not only is Sang Ly’s marital relationship strong, but the power of her family roots and her friendships shines through. This is a place where people have next to nothing, but they still look out for each other.
How this book made an impact in my life, especially as a mother:
My sister and I were recently bemoaning the lack of mothers depicted as heroines on the world stage. We discussed books, movies, TV shows, and other media and found ourselves asking, “Where are all the mothers?”
Within the same week of that conversation I picked up this book for book club. I had no idea what it was about, and to my surprise it ended up filling that need! Sang Ly is a mom who wants to learn to read to give her son a better life. She defies the odds; she dreams big in a place where one would think hope had been buried beneath the rubble. Following her journey left me very inspired. She is the kind of heroine who deserves a spot on the world’s stage.
There’s a quote from Buddha at the beginning of the book that says, “When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt back and laugh at the sky.” I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll just say that the book comes full circle to remind us that happiness does not come from our possessions but from our connections to the people we love. This isn’t a new theme, but it’s always a good one to revisit. It seems to be human tendency to forget this at least once in awhile. I was reminded that if such happiness can be found for this mother in Cambodia, surely I can feel it a little deeper too.
QUESTION: Have you had any experiences that teach you that happiness comes more from your outlook and your relationships than your circumstances or material possessions?
CHALLENGE: Focus this week on appreciating the things you do have (including possessions, personal attributes and relationships) instead of worrying about the things you don’t.
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Edited by Lisa Hoelzer and Nollie Haws