At first glance, this acutely moving novel by the author of The Chosen and other stories of punishing spiritual journeys within Orthodox Judaism, may seem a departure. Here, the setting is Korea of the 1950's as two aged peasants and an orphaned boy survive a cruel refugee trek. But the old pair and the boy, like all hapless innocents and victims of catastrophe, search within the shell of self for the answer to a universal pliant: "Why cio the spirits play with us?" Each will find some warmth in a spark of love. The 11-year-old boy, grandson of a famous poet and scholar, is dying in a ditch beside the old woman and her husband. The woman refuses to leave him and tends his wounds; the old man considers him "a burden sent by evil spirits," but cannot shake the resolve of the "crazy" old woman. The journey from Seoul to the refugee camp and the camp itself mean near-fatal starvation, terrible cold, roads and fields of dead and dying. Yet the boy's healing will occur with the change in the journeying as the pair becomes a trio. Because of the boy, the old man's life is saved. Could he have a magic power? And within each are fevered dreams and memories. The woman, racked by fatigue, pleads with the spirits; the old man sees his uncle, the "great hunter," amid images of flying hawks; the boy is tortured by images of a beloved family, hands tied, sightless in a mass grave. Then--surely the boy is magic--the three find that the old man's village has been spared. Now the dangers the boy must face are more subtle, yet deadlier than fierce weather, hardship, or a terrible foe. Potok has created a landscape of horror and beauty that seems charged with spirits--both malevolent and benign--and a human landscape where, against the terror of empty meaninglessness, only connection offers salvation.