Monday, February 13, 2012

The Glass Collector by Anna Perera

Aaron is one of the Zabbaleen people of Egypt.  The Zabbaleen are the unofficial trash collectors of Egypt.  Each day, hundreds of children just like Aaron go out into the streets of Cairo and pick through the piles of garbage looking for recyclables.  They haul it home, sort it, and sell it.
Their lives are surrounded by garbage.  When Aaron's step family kicks him out, Aaron has few choices.  He can steal, beg, die, or take the worst garbage collection job there is - a medical waster.

So, this was pretty horrific.  I didn't know.  I didn't know there were such people as the Zabbaleen, and that they've been there for a long time, and that they're still there.  It really makes me think about all the other terrible things that are going on in the world I don't have any idea about.

There are incredibly vivid descriptions of the squalor Aaron and other people in his village live in.  They live with trash, day in and day out.  The sleep next to it, they eat next to it.  There's the constant horrible smell.  Without them, trash would overrun Egypt.  They recycle 80% of what they find, where the government run services only recycles 20%.  It's incredibly dangerous.  As you would guess, disease runs rampant.  The most dangerous of all the jobs is being a medical waster, and only the most poor and desperate take that job.  These are the people who go through the trash at hospitals or other medical facilities.  That means you have people picking through used needles and blood bags with their bare hands.  Many of them die from infection.

For me reading this was more learning about a people I didn't even know was out there.  The story itself was secondary, and a little disjointed.  Aaron's job is collecting glass.  He loves glasses, and there a perfume shop he's obsessed with.  He loves to look at the beauty of the glass bottles.  One day, he goes so far as to steal some.  When he's caught, he's shunned by his step family and now must figure out how to survive.  He is in love with a girl names Rachel, and has to deal with his abusive stepfather and his very violent stepbrother.

Much like Okay for Now, the end wrapped up in a tidy way that didn't fit with the rest of the story.  Aaron's stepbrother undergoes a dramatic character change that comes out of nowhere, and Rachel suddenly decides to marry him.  His stepfather dies and now he doesn't have to be a medical waster any more.  That was all a little strange. 

I don't know if this is a book a kid would just pick up, and it's not one I would recommend for a light read, but for those social justice conscious kids it's a great one.

The Glass Collector will be available March 1, 2012.

Find out more about the Zabbaleen at

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