The Rent Collector


Camron Wright

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The Rent Collector Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Camron Wright's The Rent Collector. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Camron Wright

Camron Wright grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he also studied and earned a master’s degree in Writing and Public Relations at Westminster College. Although Wright began an MBA, he gave it up to begin his writing career. Wright published his first novel Letters for Emily in 2001, which won a Reader’s Choice award, was selected for several book clubs, and has been published in multiple countries. Despite the success of his first book, Wright took a decade-long break from writing to focus on his business and design career, which over the years involved owning several retail stores and working as a designer alongside his wife for the McCall Pattern Company in New York. After one of his four children filmed a documentary about the Stung Meanchey dump in Cambodia, Wright returned to his writing career and used the film’s story as the basis of the novel The Rent Collector. The book was published in 2012 and won Best Novel of the Year from the Whitney awards, and it was also a nominee for the International DUBLIN Literary Award. Wright followed up with The Orphan Keeper in 2016 and The Other Side of the Bridge in 2018. He still lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife Alicyn and is an active member of the Mormon Church.
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Historical Context of The Rent Collector

“Khmer Rouge” describes adherents of the Communist Party of Kampuchea that rose to power in Cambodia in the mid-1970s. Throughout the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge represented a fringe element of Cambodian politics, slowly growing in size and power while hiding in the Cambodian jungle and receiving support from other Communist forces such as the North Vietnamese Viet Cong and Laos’s Communist army, the Pathet Lao. In spite of American bombing campaigns against them, the Khmer Rouge gathered enough power to emerge from the jungles and overthrow the state government in Phnom Penh in 1975, installing themselves as the new ruling regime under the dictator Pol Pot, who renamed Cambodia as Democratic Kampuchea. The regime immediately began evacuating cities, executing anyone who could possibly be perceived as a political threat—usually by having even the most tenuous ties to Western culture and thus Western capitalism—and establishing labor camps and training centers for child soldiers. The Khmer Rouge was fundamentally isolationist, and desired to run a completely self-sustaining agricultural country based on a collectivist mindset. However, their attempts to create their envisioned utopia largely failed, leading instead to widespread famine and disease, since they refused to even allow for foreign medicine. This, combined with their ethnic cleansing of any minorities, led to a massive death toll in the four years they held power. In 1979, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia and quickly overran the weakened country, forcing the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot to flee to Thailand. The Thai government accepted their presence, viewing them as a defensive measure to help protect Thailand from the Viet Cong, whom the Khmer Rouge now opposed. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people, the United States and its allies chose to back the genocidal Pol Pot and his soldiers in Thailand with food, weapons, intelligence, and even military training, enlisting them in the fight against Vietnamese Communism. After decades of slaughter and oft-changing regimes, conflicting parties signed a peace accord in 1991 and Cambodia was reestablished as a monarchy in 1993, becoming the Kingdom of Cambodia once again and entering its most peaceful period in nearly 50 years.

Other Books Related to The Rent Collector

The Rent Collector gives Western audiences a window into the daily life and traumatic history of Cambodia, especially regarding the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975. To further learn about Cambodia’s culture and history, firsthand accounts of these events are invaluable, especially when written by Cambodians themselves. First They Killed My Father is an excellent example, a memoir by Cambodian author Loung Ung detailing her childhood experiences as the young daughter of an elite family whose life was shattered by the Khmer Rouge, as well as her true story of survival as a child soldier. Alongside Loung Ung’s work stands In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree, an autobiographical novel by Cambodian-American author Vaddey Ratner, which gives a fictionalized account of her childhood experiences surviving the Khmer Rouge labor camps. Academy Award-winning actor Haing Nor also details his early life witnessing the Khmer Rouge execution squads and mindless brutality in his memoir Survival in the Killing Fields. Fans of The Rent Collector’s style and use of metaphor will likely enjoy Wright’s subsequent work, The Orphan Keeper, which describes a young Indian man’s quest to find his birth family and rediscover who he truly is.
Key Facts about The Rent Collector
  • Full Title: The Rent Collector
  • When Written: 2011
  • Where Written: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Setting: Various locations in Cambodia
  • Climax: Sang Ly finds Sopeap Sin in her old house and sits with her as she dies.
  • Antagonist: Sopeap Sin
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for The Rent Collector

Real Characters. Although the story is largely fictionalized, many of the main characters and their personal struggles are based on real people using their real names as featured in the author’s son’s documentary River of Victory, released in 2010. Sang Ly, Ki Lim, Lucky Fat, and Teva Mao are all real people, and Sang Ly’s desperate search for healing for her infant son Nisay is inspired by the actual event.

Global Issue. The Stung Meanchey garbage dump still exists today and is still home to countless families like Sang Ly’s, and it is often mentioned as a famous example of the desolate conditions that waste pickers around the world live in.