I am the Clay by Chaim Potok
The lowdown: So I got sucked into another book instead of finishing the few that I already have started. This book was short enough (around 200 pages) that I decided to just read it straight through without jumping back and forth between other books, which I usually do.
Why I read it: Chaim Potok is my favorite author. This is the fifth book of his that I have read. Most of his work is fiction centered around Jewish culture, particularly Hasidic communities. This book veers from that, instead taking place in South Korea near the later years of the Korean War. I grabbed it from the library the other day, and decided to give it a try.
What I got out of it: The writing in this novel surprised me a great deal. Throughout the book there are page long run on sentences, disjointed thoughts, and instant jumps between the thoughts of the main characters without any kind of transition. I’m assuming this was intentional, but I think I’d have to reread it in order to grasp any kind of deeper meaning to the style. It was a bit frustrating to try to keep track of what all the characters were thinking (the plot is pushed more by what characters are thinking rather than dialogue).
Despite that, I thought the story was fascinating. I don’t know much about the Korean War, and although this book offered little to no historical background or information (which was, I think, one of the points – many of the South Korean’s had little idea what was happening with the War, and were oblivious to the political and military reasons for all the turmoil and killing that savaged their country), I came away with a sense of how frustrating war is, not just for those watching from distant lands, but those directly affected by bombs and napalm and starvation.
Should you read this book?: I enjoyed the book, but I would definitely recommend people read Chaim Potok’s other books (specifically the Asher Lev novels) over this one. This book reminded me a lot of the memoir “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” by Cambodian genocide survivor Loung Ung. Both tell stories of a family trying to survive while their homes are ravaged. Obviously, Ung’s book is based more on personal experience than the fictional I am the Clay (though there is a lot of criticism of the historical nature of her memoir), but they both have a similar overall theme and feel to them.
Next up: Who knows anymore?