MONGO: Adventures in Trash

Ted Botha, Author . Bloomsbury $23.95 (243p) ISBN 978-1-58234-452-2

After moving to New York in the 1990s and furnishing his apartment with bounty from the city streets, the author discovered he wasn't the first or only enterprising scavenger around. In this entertaining narrative, Botha (Apartheid in My Rucksack ) delves into a world of avid collectors who forage New York's garbage for everything from empty soda cans and leftover sushi to old coins and first editions. These treasures even have a distinct name—mongo—which The Cassell Dictionary of Slang defines as "any discarded object that is retrieved," Botha explains. Each chapter examines a different category of mongo seeker, from pack rats and preservationists to voyeurs and visionaries, whom Botha befriends and accompanies on their mostly nocturnal routes. Some of the most fascinating sections involve Dave, "The Treasure Hunter," whose frequent forays to Manhattan's landfills yield precious gems caked with mud; and "The Anarchists," a band of bicycle-riding young people who forgo grocery shopping in favor of gathering edibles from plastic bags outside restaurants. Steven, "The Dealer," a used- and rare-book merchant whose entire inventory comes from the street, emerges as one of the tour's most industrious characters; he gets up before dawn and "works more diligently than anyone in an office, seven days a week." Though some of Botha's observations are repetitive, he's an able guide through the undisputed capital of mongo. His sensitive and nonjudgmental study portrays a previously overlooked but resilient and passionate population as one that's worthy of attention and respect. Agent, Luke Janklow. (June 28)

Forecast: This book could have a strong New York following. Botha will conduct NYC mongo walking and collecting tours for booksellers and media, and the publisher will run ads in the New Yorker.

Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-58234-567-3
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