Rent Collector
by Wright, Camron

Under threat of eviction, Sang Ly and her husband, Ki Lim, who struggle to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia's largest municipal dump, embark on a desperate journey to save their ailing son from a life of ignorance and poverty.

Working as "pickers," Sang Ly and her husband, Ki Lim, earn their living by sifting through the trash at Stung Meanchey, Cambodia's large city dump. Desperately poor, they live with their sickly baby boy in a one-room hut on a small piece of land that they rent from the cantankerous Rent Collector. Everything changes when one day Sang Ly discovers the Rent Collector's secret: she can read. Determined to give her son a better life, Sang Ly convinces the Rent Collector to teach her how to read. An unlikely friendship blossoms between the two women, and Sang Ly learns that the Rent Collector's gruff exterior hides unspeakable personal tragedies and a life shattered by the Khmer Rouge. Undergirding Sang Ly's literary journey is the support and care of the Stung Meanchey community, illustrating how beauty can be found in even the ugliest of places. Drawn from the real lives of the residents of Stung Meanchey, this is a beautifully told story about the perseverance of the human spirit and the importance of standing up for what is right. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

The steady rumble of uninvited trucks tries to pry into the safety of my dream, a dream in which I am still a child prancing along the trail toward the rice fields where my family works in the Prey Veng province of Cambodia’s countryside. It is a cheerful morning as I pull at my grandfather’s bony fingers, tugging him along while he struggles to keep up. . . .

He bends close, squints his eyes at mine, and peeks into my thoughts as though he were the village fortune-teller. I find it unnerving and so I glance down at my bare and dirty toes. He won’t allow it. With a touch from his calloused finger to my chin he raises my gaze. He speaks assuredly, but still with enough grandfatherly giggle trailing in his voice to make certain my little-girl ears pay attention to every smiling syllable.

“Life will not always be so hard or cruel. Our difficulties are but a moment.”

I stare back, trying to make sense of his words, for my life is neither hard nor cruel. I am still too young to recognize that we are poor—that in spite of the grandeur of the province and the hours my family toils each day, we don’t own the land on which we work. I haven’t yet grasped that earning enough money to buy food on the very day we eat it isn’t an adventure embraced by the world.

The rumble grows louder, and Grandfather rocks forward on his toes.

“Remember, Sang Ly. When you find your purpose—and you will find your purpose—never let go. Peace is a product of both patience and persistence.”

How can a child pretend to make sense of such a puzzling phrase?

“Sang Ly,” he repeats, as if he finds eminent joy in the sound of my name, “it starts today. Today is going to be a very lucky day.”

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