The garbage king ISBN: 9781405019262
Published by Macmillan, 2003
Set in Ethiopia, mainly Addis Ababa, this is the story of two different boys and how they became street children. Mamo is from a poor family. He and his sister are orphans, and when Merga arrives, claiming to be an uncle, Mamo is taken off and sold as a slave to a farmer. Badly mistreated and almost suicidal, he runs away - back to Addis Ababa - and there meets Dani. Dani is a rich boy, spoiled by his sick mother and mentally abused by his hard father, who believes the fat, pampered boy will never amount to anything. But Dani runs away, and he and Mamo become friends and ultimately part of a street gang, led by Million, their 'joviro'. This is a gang with strict rules and very much its own code, and while Dani refuses to beg, he discovers a talent for telling and writing stories, which the boys sell for a few pennies. The descriptions of the gang's life on the streets, how they exist, their ploys for begging, and the interaction of the different members are all well portrayed. We meet Buffalo, who is the violent one, Karate, a very small boy who is ill and ultimately dies (probably of AIDS), Getachew, who had known Mamo before, Shoes, who is a tad unusual and has a shoe fetish, and tough Million, a born leader. Mamo becomes 'the garbage king' due to a talent for finding good things in the town dump. Each is a rounded, believable character, and we come to admire them all, particularly when they confront Mamo's slaver in a funny and complete scene of revenge. The story ends happily for Mamo and Dani, though the others will remain street children. A long, honest, gripping novel that pulls no punches. Elizabeth Laird has spent much time in Ethiopia and has met and talked to street children. This is really their story. Excellent woodcuts adorn the beginnings of chapters.