Friday, March 2, 2012
The Glass Collector
Albert Whitman and Company, 2012
Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Last year I read Perera's Guantanamo Boy and appreciated Perera's skill in tackling such a prominent part of world politics when most YA shies away from that. Thus I was excited to see another work from her, this time looking at the Zabbaleen people in Cairo, Egypt who collect the garbage of the city. This is another timely topic as the book is set just before the Egyptian uprising of last year, overthrowing Hosni Mubarak.
I'm not very familiar with Egypt so most everything that was discussed was brand-new to me. I did not know that the Zabbaleen were a community within Egypt to collect the discarded trash, sorting and recycling what is still usable far beyond the work of Western waste-collecting companies. They are also Coptic Christians in a predominantly Muslim country and incredibly poor, especially in comparison to the wealthy tourists who visit the city. Another important part of their economy is maintaining pigs, a casualty of swine flu fears, which majorly impacted them.
All of these strands are present in the story but not as much as I would have liked. Actually I think I would have enjoyed a non-fiction examination of the Zabbaleen written by someone with the skill of Perera because I loved these themes and would like to be more informed about them.
However there is also a story featuring main character Aaron, the titular glass collector who is drawn to the beauty of the glass. I don't know, I just could not connect with this guy. He dreams of a better world, away from his cruel stepbrother and stepfather and starting a romantic relationship with the girl who tends the horses. But he also steals from a shop-owner, lies, and runs away. I generally felt sympathetic toward him as his situation is awful but I was wondering how the story would go. He was not enough to capture my attention nor did the other characters spark for me. Sometimes there were pages where nothing was really happening and the story just stalled. I did not get the feeling that there was an ending that the story was driving to; it was just meandering.
Overall: The story was not as engaging to me due to flat characters but I loved the evocative writing and the idea of this book; I hope I can find more YA books set in locations beyond the USA, Canada, and the UK.