This is one of those books that turned out to be completely different from what I expected. And absolutely wonderful! And, as you find out at the end, it’s based on a true story. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.
Adjacent to a huge public dump, in one of the poorest areas of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Sang Ly, her husband Kim Lim, and baby Nisay scrape by each day by scrounging around the mounds of garbage, hunting for items they can sell to buy food. That is, if the patrolling gangs don’t steal their money first. The family home is cobbled together from metal scrap and tarp (look at the image on the book cover), offering only meager protection from the elements. Nisay is constantly ill and, despite continual effort, his parents can’t seem to find a cure that lasts.
One of the most hated figures in their lives is the Rent Collector, an older woman who relentlessly hounds her customers, instantly threatening eviction anytime they are late with even one payment. Then, one day, Sang Ly notices the Rent Collector tearing up after glimpsing the cover of a discarded book. This leads Sang Ly to conclude that the Rent Collector knows how to read. Desperate to do whatever she can to improve the prospects for her young son’s future, Sang Ly asks the Rent Collector to please teach her how to read.
Thus begins a relationship between these two women, from vastly different backgrounds, who slowly begin to uncover each other’s life story and develop a friendship. The Rent Collector’s mysterious story dates back to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime while Sang Ly’s is rooted in a small country town. There is also the touching love story between Sang Ly and her husband and a glimpse at how, poor as they are, the two of them are able to make a big difference in the lives of those around them. It’s also a glimpse into the world of illiteracy and the difference one person’s skill can make in the lives of everyone around her.
Don’t miss this lovely, deeply human novel!
More about the author, Camron Wright.