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I Am The Clay (1997)

I Am the Clay (1997)

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3.51 of 5 Votes: 3
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0449001121 (ISBN13: 9780449001127)
ballantine books

About book I Am The Clay (1997)

“I Am the Clay” (Ballantine Books, 1992) is a difficult book to get through, even though the paperback is roughly 240 pages long. This is a powerful book about the futility of war through its victims. The country and the main characters are never named, which can help readers fill in the blanks with whatever personal experience they have had. This makes them better identify with the victims’ nightmarish sufferings.“I Am the Clay” is a very strange title choice for a book about the atrocities of war. Anyone picking up the book may at first think it is about an artist or a memoir. “I Am the Clay” gets its name from a Christian song that one of the Asian characters learned (most likely the traditional hymn “Charge My Heart O God”). However, she learned the song in English and so never understood what the song meant. This is just one of the subtle cruelties portrayed in the book.About Chaim PotokAcclaimed American author Chaim Potok (1929 – 2002) is best known for writing about his Jewish heritage, but in “I Am the Clay,” one of his last novels, Potok decided to look at humanity’s history as a whole, although centered on an Asian war. Potok himself was a veteran of the Korean War, serving as a chaplain for two years. He briefly mentions the war in “The Book of Lights” (1981) which had the protagonist go to Korea, but for the most part Potok decided to keep the experience quiet until it shows up here.Those who have read Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Road” (Alfred A Knopf, 2006) may find some familiar scenes and here. However, “I Am the Clay” precedes McCarthy’s novel, which does make a reader wonder if McCarthy ever read Potok’s little heartbreaking book.WarningsAlthough this is a hypnotic, page-turner of a book, it is also a bit like slowing down in traffic in order to get a better look at a nearby train wreck. If you are easily upset to where you can’t get through two chapters of a Stephen King novel, then this book will haunt you. However, the book is meant to be haunting. It’s like a scar that keeps on peeling off only to reveal a fresh new scar beneath it. One specific warning to dog lovers – dogs are treated brutally in this book. Potok even portrays the dogs as heroic, which makes their treatment at the hands of war victims even more baffling. Perhaps that is the main theme of the book. Although the dogs were not biting the hands of those that feed them, they still were slaughtered just because they were considered less than human. Asians certainly were not and sometimes still are not considered human by non-Asians.

This was a tough read because of the subject matter--- heartwrenching descriptions of the deprivations and degradations of war. I loved the character of the old woman. She could see and feel the power of love. The book beautifully portrays the resilience of the human spirit and puts that beauty side by side with the ugliness of human frailty and the sometimes human inclination to be inhuman. The book also showed how important family is and the love of family. I thought it provided good food for thought on the commonalities of religious beliefs and how men of differing beliefs sometimes grapple with their religious beliefs in similar ways. I like the title---that is what caught my eye at the library and I like the meanings and analogies that are connected with the title in relation to the story. I would probably give this 3 1/2 stars.

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I've loved every Chaim Potok book I've ever read, but this one was a surprise as the author revisits the Korean war from the viewpoint of the refugees. It read like a piece of non-fiction- as you can't create such a real story- it had to happen. I closed it thinking that I know so little about our world and our past, and I'm not alone in that condition. We think we know all the facts, but until you've nearly died in cave, mostly starved, alone, you don't know what it feels like to have your life ripped apart by war. We talk about war from all kinds of places, but from the voice of the most helpless who lose everything comes a sense of power and influence.

An elderly couple are fleeing southward from their village during the Korean War. They find themselves in a roadside ditch at one point, and find there an injured boy. The old man wants to leave him, but his wife insists that they take the boy with them. Over the next several days, the boy recovers and helps with the daily survival. Gradually the man realizes that good things are happening with the boy around. Re-read in 2014. This is very different from all the other books of Potok's that I've read. All of them have a strong Jewish theme to them, while this is survival in the midst of the Korean War. I wondered at that until I read the bio information in the back to learn that he'd served as a chaplain in Korea. Ah, makes sense now. The young boy is named a couple times but the elderly couple never is. Perhaps that is because this is a commentary on the war and all the nameless victims that struggled to survive.

Subject verb object. Adjective subject verb object. Subject verb. Subject verb object.That's about what it felt like reading this book. Aside from the jarring, staccato writing style, I was unable to forge a connection with the characters, and I abandoned the book part way through. I'm disappointed, because I have very much liked the three other Potok books I have read so far (The Chosen, The Promise, and My Name Is Asher Lev). I was intrigued to pick up a book in which Potok was finally writing about another culture (this time Koreans instead of Jews), and so I asked for this book for my birthday. But it was quite the let down; it just doesn't seem to have the emotional connection and insight of his other books, and I'm not willing to invest anymore time in it when I can turn instead to another title of his I also received, which I hope will prove better.
—Skylar Burris

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