'The Rent Collector' is a throught-provoking story of family, love and forgiveness

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

“Magical.” That is the word that award-winning author Camron Wright used to describe his first meeting with Sang Ly, the real person who inspired the main character in his fictional novel “The Rent Collector” (Shadow Mountain, $22.99).

Sang Ly and her husband Ki Lim live in Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in Cambodia. “The Rent Collector” is the fictional story based on this real family as they desperately try to find a cure for their chronically ill son, Nisay. His hollow gaze, protruding belly and constant diarrhea make Sang Ly weep, but she knows that it is only in the dump that money can be made to heal her son. Sopeap Sin is the unforgiving rent collector. She holds a deep secret that comes to light through the magic of literature and the power of hope.

“People are the same everywhere,” said Wright, who added that when he first saw the documentary “River of Victory” — about the people who live in a Cambodian landfill — he did not think he would have much in common with the people who lived there. His son Trevor served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cambodia. As a film major, Trevor returned to that land four years ago and documented Sang Ly and her family. The more Wright watched of the documentary, the more he associated with the family he would write about. The film became the inspiration for the story.

While preparing the novel, Wright recalled many instances where characters would take over and write themselves. One such character was the rent collector. Wright recalled a real-life, angry Cambodian woman who would collect rent, on whom he based his character, Sopeap Sin. Wright admits that Sopeap is a flawed character, but that is why he loves her.

“She needs redemption and she understands that,” Wright said during an interview. “That is how we all are, and I kind of appreciate that.”

Sopeap Sin’s first words in the story are: “You have my money?” Her demands, coupled with her angry, often drunken fits, are enough to make one hate her immediately. But here is just another lesson that comes from this beautiful, touching and thought-provoking novel.

“So often we meet somebody and we draw a first impression,” Wright said. “Then once we kind of wear their shoes for a bit or come to know them, we realize, 'OK, I can understand. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes.'”

In "The Rent Collector," every day Ki Lim shifts through the garbage at Stung Meanchey looking for items that can be recycled for money. Sang Ly also helps and cares for their son. Then one day her life takes a turn as she finds out that the lady who she despises has a secret. Sang Ly hopes that secret can be the means to help save her son from a life at Stung Meanchey. As Sang Ly comes to better understand Sopeap Sin, she sees her goodness and trusts in her as a teacher and eventually as a friend.

Sang Ly's quest to save her son leads her back to the village she grew up in to find a healer for her son. While the countryside is beautiful and could provide healthy living conditions for her son, there is no way to make a living. That is the irony of the dump: The very conditions that cause Nisay's sickness provide the only means of helping him.

After Wright watched his son’s documentary, he had the idea for a book and began to pen the story. Then, about a year later, he hit a wall in his writing. It was after that time that his good friend suddenly died. Wright then decided to take a vacation with the intent of coming home with a novel or calling it quits. After two weeks of waking at 6 in the morning with ideas coming so quick that he could not type fast enough and retiring to bed at 11 at night, Wright came home with the novel almost completed.

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