Allison's Book Bag

The Glass Collector by Anna Perera

Posted on: March 14, 2013

Has a book or movie ever so immersed you that any questions you might have about plot or character don’t enter your mind? At least not until the story is finished? And even then you still like it? This is how I felt about The Glass Collector by Anna Perera, which is based on research into current events in Egypt. Only as the end of her tale of fifteen-year-old Aaron drew near did I began to wonder about some of its flaws. Yet I still thoroughly enjoyed my glimpse into a world very different from mine.

For example, there isn’t much of a traditional plot. Aside from a love story, the bulk of the first half of the book is about the daily routines of Aaron and his family as they collect and sort through garbage, looking for items they can sell. Any events are only loosely connected. Aaron sees a vision of Saint Mary at a local hotel, a friend marries a hateful husband, a bomb kills two and destroys property, a presidential visit receives minimal attention, and a motorcycle accident injures Aaron’s girlfriend. Any of these incidents could be removed with little impact. It’s not until Aaron’s family disown him for stealing perfume bottles from a local merchant that a real crisis emerges.

There also isn’t much in the way of traditional character development, in that Aaron never really changes. For instance, there’s his theft of the perfume bottles. He begins with two and gradually adds more, and there’s no doubt would have continued this thievery if he hadn’t been caught and ostracized. When his community accepts him again, Aaron only sometimes feels guilty about these actions. His family hates him without reason and then suddenly his brother loves him. Even his friends (including girls with romantic intentions) are hot and cold about their affection for him. Finally, there is the unevenness with which the story’s viewpoint is handled. Generally, the story is told in third-person limited, inside Aaron’s head. Occasionally, Perera randomly shares glimpses into other characters, perhaps to create an understanding for how others behave around Aaron. For example, three-quarters into the book, she tells how Aaron’s brother feels and why. Unfortunately, it seems out of place this late into the book and succeeds only in disconnecting me from Aaron’s story.

Despite these flaws, here are the reasons why I think The Glass Collector is worth seeking out. First, while it lacks a traditional plot, it doesn’t need one. As fragmented as its scenes may be, they fit together like the panels of a quilt, to create an over all impression of the Zabbeleen community. At one point, Aaron must make a decision of whether to stay with his people or to escape to a cleaner, safer, and wealthier life. Part of what makes the dilemma so tough for him is that the community is essentially one big family. By the time he faces that decision I understand how he feels, because I’m sad to leave his world too when Perera’s novel ends. Character development is a trickier issue. Yes, I wish Aaron had felt more remorse over his thievery. And the sudden changes in attitude of those around him remind me of It’s Okay Now by Gary Schdmit, which I loved until the end when I felt betrayed by the unjustified happily-ever-after conclusion. The character issues pale, however, in contrast to being able to see inside the world of a culture previously unknown to me, and which, judging from everything I’ve read, seems to have been realistically portrayed. Although Perera isn’t from Egypt, she did visit the Zabbeleen and developed tremendous respect for them. This shows through in her author’s note and in her vivid descriptions. As for the switching viewpoints, this flaw didn’t bother me until near the end. Even then, I still remained absorbed in Aaron’s story.

The Glass Collector will pull you into a new world. And when you finally must depart from it you’ll have plenty to think about. Perera left me wanting to know more about the actual Zabbeleen, which to me is a mark of a winning book.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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