In "A Single Shard," Linda Sue Park skillfully takes readers to 12th-century Korea and into the life of an orphaned boy named Tree-ear. The potters' village of Ch'ulp'o is where the 10-year-old and his wise companion, Crane-man, live - homeless, under a bridge. This is not a tale about homelessness, however; it's a quest for purpose and place, direction and dignity.
Tree-ear is fascinated by master potter Min's work, and he longs to be apprenticed. Unfortunately, the trade passes only from fathers to sons. Tree-ear (named for a mushroom that grows in decaying trees - without benefit of proper parentage) becomes an errand boy for Min. His devotion to the potter and his love of the craft take him on an adventure that covers much of Korea.
Park's writing incorporates terms and techniques of ceramics: The potters dig and prepare clay, throw and mold pots, fire vessels in a wood-burning kiln. And then there are the glazes - especially Korea's famous celadon. Even the color itself is illusive, "for although it was green, shades of blue and gray and violet whispered beneath it, as in the sea on a cloudy day." For those who want to see the pottery, Park provides photos on her website www.lindasuepark.com. Click on "My Books," then on "A Single Shard," and look for the "If you've read the book..." section. Finally, go to "Behind the scenes." Because the captions reveal plot elements, readers may want to finish the book before heading there.
Park's parents grew up in Korea, and she has written three other novels set in that country. She says each has brought her closer to her ancestral home. Readers will be happy they can share the journey.