Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rent Collector, Camron Wright

This book was recommended by my friend Amy. I have a few friends who have such impeccable taste in literature that if I see they've read and liked something, I can pick it up without any reservations. This was one of those books.

It takes place in the actual Cambodian dump of Stung Meanchey. Several characters are real people, such as the main character Sang Ly, her husband Ki Lim and son Nisay. However, some of the book is factual and based on the author's son's documentary River of Victory (www.RiverOfVictory.com), but most is fictional. Based on the author's idea of what would happen if the people of Stung Meanchey were to be given the gift of literacy.

The Rent Collector, also nicknamed "The Cow" is an older woman who name is Sopeap Sin. Not many like her. But that all changes when Sang Ly realized that Sopeap knows how to read and requests to be taught. In Stung Meanchey, you earn enough for each day's food by going through the trash and picking out recyclables which you are then paid for. There really isn't a way to "get ahead" and even if you could, life wouldn't necessarily be better. For instance, when Sang Ly's son is continually sick and they have been to every doctor they can possibly take him to, she decides she must go back to the village of her childhood to the Healer who lives there. While waiting for the Healer to come back from a quick trip to a neighboring village, Ki is granted temporary work in the rice fields there. He makes less working the rice fields than he does at the dump.

I don't know much about Cambodia and the revolution there, but from what the book depicts it is every bit as awful as the Nazi regime. They killed anyone who was educated, claiming it was useless and selfish that the only ones who mattered were the working class. That it was unfair for anyone to live off the working class, therefore everyone had to work. Only those who worked would eat. But on the flip side, they stripped the identity of people in work camps stating that they were each only one grain of rice in a huge bowl. Take one grain out and the bowl is still full.  That brings up a lot to think about in and of itself.

But Sopeap is not liked at all, it is not until she is needed again that you start to see who she really is as a person. It reminds us that the people who are the hardest to love are the ones who probably need it the most. It also shows how when we are sincere, sometimes we can break down the barriers and truly come to know the person inside a hardened exterior.

I absolutely loved all the references to wonderful literature, the discussions of what makes literature and how to interpret how everything is symbolic in literature as well as possible inclinations to the literal. There is a discussion about the Cambodian version of Cinderella, a woman by the name Sarann. And Sopeap details to Sang Ly that this story appears in almost every culture around the world, independent of one another. Sopeap talks about this idea saying "I am talking about the constant nature of truth. Look at Buggha's philosophy-it's about the path and our journey. That's what his teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path are all about. Do you see what I mean? Have you ever found a classical book of literature that isn't about a journey-whether actual or within?....There isn't one. It's not just Sarann and Cinderella. Look at all books, plays, movies-we keep writing the same plots, with the same characters, teaching the same lessons.Why do you suppose that is?" Sang Ly replies "Nobody has an original idea?" Sopeap replies "Or is the original idea so intrinsic, inherent, and ingenious, so fundamental to our existence, that we can't help but be drawn back? ... I'm suggesting that writers can't help themselves. Our trials, our troubles, our demons, our angels-we reenact them because these stories explain our lives. Literature's lessons repeat because they echo from deeper places. They touch a chord in our soul because they're notes we've already heard played. Plots repeat because, from the birth of man, they explore the reasons for our being. Stories tech us to not give up hope because there are times in our own journey when we mustn't give up hope. They teach endurance because in our lives we are meant to endure. They carry messages that are older than the words themselves, messages that reach beyond the page."

How beautiful is that? Instead of criticizing the fact that there may be only 7 plots in the world, why not explore WHY, at the core of human nature we seem to gravitate-heavily-to those 7 plots. It may have absolutely nothing to do with a lack of originality and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that people inherently want to hope, want to have freedoms, want to avoid things, want good to triumph over evil. Mind blowing! It's not a weakness. It is a strength to paint the same picture with different hues and different colors.

Anyhow, this was a truly beautiful story. So many gems of literature-I have decided that I highly prefer the Cambodian Cinderella Sarann to the one we know in Western culture-the entire tale is printed in this book! I even read it to my 8 year old. This book has not only taught me so much about kindness, patients and basic human needs-both physical and emotional-but how to appreciate literature on an even deeper level. Especially some of the older, classics that are not as sensational page turners but can teach us so much. I'm even inspired to go back and attempt Mobey Dick again.....we'll see how that goes! This book touched me and resonated in my soul. Now you read it!

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