Book Review: Trash by Andy Mulligan

Wonderful. This book is just wonderful. Despite the connotation of the word, Trash is far from being, well, trash. It’s more of a gem actually, if I may say. So what made me want to read this book? Curiosity. Who wouldn’t be curious about a novel that is about his own country? With these, I’ll tell you in three parts the reasons why I like this book: the setting, the characters, the plot.

The setting

Although there is no mention about it in the book, Trash is most probably set in the Philippines. This is not surprising considering that the author, Andy Mulligan, who is British, had worked as a teacher in the Philippines. And then there is the dumpsite described as the main setting for the story which is very much similar to Payatas and Smokey Mountain. Third, there is a Greenhills in the story where the wealthy and the famous reside and there is also a Greenhills in San Juan, Manila. Fourth, the book mentions about using “po” to show respect to elders just like how Filipinos use “po” and “opo” when talking to older people. Fifth, Sampalo, the place where one of the characters came from, reminds me of Sampaloc, a place in Manila.

With these alone, Trash already feels close to my heart. Not that I like every book I read that resembles or even mentions Philippines/Filipinos in it. (Then again, I haven’t read any book yet about the Philippines that I did not like.) But with this book, I feel very comfortable as if I am watching a teleserye (soap opera) or Tagalog movie, only that the language is in English.

The characters

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The book is told in the voices of various narrators, but the main storytellers are the dumpsite boys themselves: Gardo, Raphael, and Rat. I love these boys – their fears, their courage, their wit. I love how Andy Mulligan described these dumpsite boys – not pathetic or overrated, simply that they are your ordinary dumpsite boys who rummage through the garbage and among the stupp to look for something of value to keep or to sell. In short, the dumpsite boys in the story are real. Just as how real the corrupt politicians and policemen are in the story.

The plot

The idea of some dumpsite boys finding something of great value in the garbage may not be very unique but Andy Mulligan managed to keep Trash interesting with how the unschooled boys worked on tracing the location of the treasure. The pace is steady (not too dragging, not too hurried) and the storytelling is very engaging. Somehow I had the feeling that the after the cat-and-mouse chase between the boys and the policemen who were looking for them, the boys will still be able to get away. But then, the ending amazed me. I like the ending best, but because I do not want to be branded a “spoiler”, I will instead urge you to read this book. It is a surprise really, having to discover that Trash is a wonderful story, especially that I had no high expectations whatsoever. Reading Trash is like rummaging through garbage and being surprised by the treasure you find.