A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
I read this a couple of years ago at the urging of some of my students. It was a magnificent read, all the more so because it had been students who encouraged me to read it.
It was even better this time. That is one of the marks of an outstanding book for me, a book that bears up under the pressure of a reread.
The story is that of Tree-ear, an orphan, living in twelfth-century Korea. He lives under a bridge with a fellow outcast, Crane-man, a man who is only able to hobble about with the help of a cane. The two survive by scavenging. Then Tree-ear accidentally breaks a pot of one of his village’s greatest potters, Min, and, to compensate for his carelessness, he goes to work for Min. Tree-ear dreams of learning Min’s trade, but Min is an angry man who feels only a son should learn a father’s trade and he regards Tree-ear as no son of his. Min and his wife are childless, having lost their son earlier in life. Min’s wife gradually comes to love Tree-ear and, even more slowly, Min does, too. When a representative of the king visits the village in search of a new potter for the royal family, Min’s work is found to be worthy of a closer look. To show his work to the king, Tree-ear offers to take Min’s pottery on a long journey to the royal city. It is a trip fraught with danger. Along the way, Tree-ear is besieged by robbers and, in the process, all of Min’s work is destroyed. Tree-ear, though discouraged, does not give up. He takes an intact shard of Min’s pottery to the king and the tiny piece of Min’s work is enough to give Min a commission to the king. Tree-ear loses his friend, Crane-man, but acquires for the first time both a family and a vocation with Min and his wife.