As the Chinese invade South Korea from the North and the civilian population evacuates ahead of the advancing forces, "I Am the Clay" follows one elderly couple. This childless couple stumbles across a wounded and unconscious eleven year old boy in a ditch, and much to the old man's disapproval the old woman takes the boy along with them. The story follows their harrowing escape from the invaders and the hardships and horrors of their journey, including the often at best indifferent treatment at the hands of their own defending soldiers.
It is a very moving story told in a unique prose style which keeps the reader on his toes as the thoughts of the three characters are often interwoven in the same sentences. It is very much narrative drive, with minimal dialogue certainly until towards the end, and even then there is not a lot; but through the narrative we learn the thinking and motives of the characters. The old woman, caring and very much taken with the boy; the old man torn between his fear of what the boy will cost them and the good fortune he seems to bring them; and the boy, dependant, trusting yet intelligent and resourceful, a boy with integrity. It is also through the thoughts and dreams of the characters that we learn much of their individual and very different backgrounds.
A compelling and beautifully told story, very different in style from some of Chaim Potok's novels, with three very different yet appealing characters, even the seemingly bitter old man has his redeeming points. The horror and futility of war inevitably come across, indirectly for there is no propaganda here, no hidden agenda. My only reservation is that the conclusion seems somewhat abrupt; and I would really like to know the eventual prospects for the young boy especially. It is a very good story, but perhaps not quite as good as "The Chosen" and its sequel, or the Asher Lev books.