Tree-ear is an orphan living in 12th century Korea. His only friend in the world is Crane Man, who has taken care of Tree-ear since the boy was deposited in the village as a child, and they live together, poor, hungry, under a bridge. Crane Man has a bad leg, so he cannot work, but he has taught Tree-ear how to scrounge for food, how to think and reason, and how to see the world.
Tree-ear's greatest wish is to be a potter, and he spends his days watching the master potters toiling over their vases and creating the clear, pure, celadon glaze that's so treasured. Tree-ear finally gets an opportunity to work--for no pay, of course--for Min, who Tree-ear sees as the greatest potter in the village. Min works slowly, and he's short and harsh with Tree-ear, but his wife is kind, and Tree-ear is more than willing to do the back-breaking work of chopping wood for the kiln and digging and draining the clay if it means he might have a chance to learn this trade.
This is a gorgeous story. It doesn't sound very exciting, but I became so invested in Tree-ear and Crane Man, and in Min's quest to gain a royal commission, that I was nearly breathless with it. The descriptions of the pottery were so vivid that I could picture clearly the look of the vases and droppers. The process of making the pieces was beautifully told, not at all boring or tedious, as I thought it would be. Min works slowly, carefully, and in the end his pots are finer than any other--and that's a tidy little description of this book, too.