I Am the Clay
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"Potok writes powerfully about the suffering of innocent people caught in the cross-fire of a war they cannot begin to understand....Humanity and compassion for his characters leap from every page."
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
As the Chinese and the army of the North sweep south during the Korean War, an old peasant farmer and his wife flee their village across the bleak, bombed-out landscape. They soon come upon a boy in a ditch who is wounded and unconscious. Stirred by possessiveness and caring the woman refuses to leave the boy behind. The man thinks she is crazy to nurse this boy, to risk their lives for some dying stranger. Angry and bewildered, he waits for the boy to die. And when the boy does not die, the old man begins to believe that the boy possesss a magic upon which all their lives depend....
Often when he is alone he inclines his head as if listening for something. He is a carrier of too much memory. His eyes are like the big mirrors in the marketplace: I see in them his burning village. What is happening to me in this madness of war? Can a stranger’s child be so quickly loved by an old woman? Are the spirits playing with me? Have they nothing better to do than torture again an old woman already scarred by their previous attentions? Turn away from me, spirits. Leave me in peace. How
to me through that little dog? The woman let the soup cook a long time and then she and the boy ate it as a hot jelly. But the old man would not eat. In the late afternoon the woman said matter-of-factly to the boy as she squatted in the mouth of the cave, “We will wait until he dies and then we will cover him with stones in the cave.” The boy said, “But the dogs.” The woman said after a moment, “The spirits of the cave will care for him.” “And what will happen to us?” “We will go through
feet from the boy. A middle-aged man and woman squatted near the firepit at the entrance to the shanty. The woman carried a child in a sling on her back. The man, dark hair wild on his bare head, face gaunt and stubbly, kept coughing and wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his winter jacket. Dancing adroitly among the ropes held taut by two of the girls, the third girl, her coat and skirt hiked above her knees, seemed to float over the ground. She danced with the wind in her face, her high
courtyard. He put the pad and quilt on the cart and slept there and woke chilled by the early-morning air. For a moment he was in the shanty on the plain and the flames had died in the firepit and the girl stood silhouetted against the snowy light motioning to him soundlessly to help her carry away her dead father. He lay shivering in the chill darkness and after a while climbed down from the cart and went back into the house. The boy worked in the little canvas houses—Jamesways, he learned
sense how near the river the cache was. He walked through streets crowded with refugees and listened to talk about the war: men, women, children forced by the soldiers from the North to dig their own graves and then shot; towns and villages burned. He fled from the talk and came upon the same dog he had seen the day before but it ran from him. At the broken wall he removed the stones and loaded wood upon the A-frame and replaced the stones, and then he returned to the riverbank with the wood.