I Am the Clay

Synopsis: from the dust jacket


During the last retreat, when the Chinese and the army of the North swept down into the South, an old man and his wife fled from their village in the hills and embarked upon a panicky trek along the main road to Seoul and at one point scrambled with other refugees into a roadside ditch to avoid an approaching column of American tanks and jeeps. There they came upon the boy.

With these opening words, Chaim Potok departs from the world of Jewish family life. . .and turns to a dramatically different culture in a novel about three people brought together by chance in the midst of the horror of the Korean War.

The boy in the ditch is unconscious, close to death. The old woman, stirred by memories of her own child who died at birth, refuses to leave him behind in their flight through the bleak bombed-out landscape, and as she nurses him, a fierce animal tenderness is reawakened in her. The old man thinks his wife has lost her mind to put their lives at risk for a stranger, "this stone around our necks." Gripped by rage and jealousy, he waits for the boy to die. But when he does not die, the old man begins to think that the boy has some magic in him upon which their very survival depends.

What happens to this odd family, bound together by reluctant kinship and absolute need, is the heart of a spare, haunting, powerfully moving novel about the unexpected flowering of love in a war-blighted world.

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