Beasts of a Little Land: Book summary and reviews of Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

Beasts of a Little Land

A Novel

by Juhea Kim

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim X
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
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Book Summary

An epic story of love, war, and redemption set against the backdrop of the Korean independence movement, following the intertwined fates of a young girl sold to a courtesan school and the penniless son of a hunter.

In 1917, deep in the snowy mountains of occupied Korea, an impoverished local hunter on the brink of starvation saves a young Japanese officer from an attacking tiger. In an instant, their fates are connected—and from this encounter unfolds a saga that spans half a century.

In the aftermath, a young girl named Jade is sold by her family to Miss Silver's courtesan school, an act of desperation that will cement her place in the lowest social status. When she befriends an orphan boy named JungHo, who scrapes together a living begging on the streets of Seoul, they form a deep friendship. As they come of age, JungHo is swept up in the revolutionary fight for independence, and Jade becomes a sought-after performer with a new romantic prospect of noble birth. Soon Jade must decide whether she will risk everything for the one who would do the same for her.

From the perfumed chambers of a courtesan school in Pyongyang to the glamorous cafes of a modernizing Seoul and the boreal forests of Manchuria, where battles rage, Juhea Kim's unforgettable characters forge their own destinies as they wager their nation's. Immersive and elegant, Beasts of a Little Land unveils a world where friends become enemies, enemies become saviors, heroes are persecuted, and beasts take many shapes.

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Media Reviews

"Beasts of a Little Land is a stunning chronicle of the Korean peninsula during the tumultuous decades leading to independence and partition. Told through the lives of a rich cast of characters—courtesans, Japanese generals, and revolutionaries—whose stories intertwine in the most unexpected ways, it is by turns political and sensual, epic and intimate. It is also a profound meditation on place; Kim evokes the urban and natural landscapes of Korea with transporting beauty. This novel will devastate you and then still you with its wise meditations on love and loss. I couldn't put it down." -- Alexis Schaitkin, author of Saint X

"Elegant and wise, lush and immersive, Beasts of a Little Land is Tolstoyan in its sweep and ambition as it brings to life the Korean struggle against Japanese occupation and the making of a modern nation in the first half of the 20th century. Juhea Kim is a conjurer of rare ability whose magnificent debut utterly enchants." -- Keija Parssinen, author of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis

This information about Beasts of a Little Land shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Alyson R. (Spokane, WA)

Multifaceted characters capture humanity's good, bad, and gray features in early 20th-century Japanese-occupied Korea
Juhea Kim's "Beasts of a Little Land" reminds me in some ways of Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago" but with much more vivid and captivating characters. Not being familiar with Korean history, it was an eye-opener learning about the Japanese occupation. Kim captures the brutality of colonialism and its costs to subjects – the Korean body as an object of use – physical labor for men, sex for women, and the starvation and death that leads to orphans (JungHo) and girls sold into courtesan-ship (Jade). Introduced to a suite of characters from various levels of Korean and Japanese society, we see individuals at once subject to forces larger than themselves (even the Japanese officers) but finding agency within existing structures in order to survive, oftentimes in morally questionable ways. Kim raises the question through her character-development, what would you do if faced with these circumstances? The two primary protagonists Jade and JungHo remain at the core of Kim's storytelling, leaving and entering each other's lives like stars in orbit, but leaving an indelible footprint on each other, finding at times joy, heartbreak, and human connection in life-altering circumstances. I would highly recommend reading "Beasts of a Little Land", and to note, Kim's ending was one of the most well-executed and beautiful endings in fiction I have ever read. Looking forward to reading more of her work.

Pamela W. (Piney Flats, TN)

History through Fiction
I learn history best through historical fiction, and I was particularly intrigued by this title because I know little about Korea. Yes, I've read several popular novels, but this author led me through the Japanese occupation of Korea to the independence movement and into some parts of Korea's early nationhood.
The story is populated with interesting characters, both Japanese and Korean, both male and female. While I began slowly trying to keep the characters straight, I felt all parts of the tale were essential. The themes of loyalty, self-gratification, entrepreneurship, and love enriched the history.
This title would make for exciting book club discussion. Who are the beasts?

Bettie T. (Johns Island, SC)

Love and War in Korea
This was a book that pulled me in to some complex, albeit imperfect, characters, and to a better understanding of the culture and history of Korea, a land exotic to me. Our main character, Jade, is sent as a child to become the servant of a woman who is a courtesan, and as one might guess, she becomes one also, and a well-known actress also. Her tale encompasses a bit more than the first half of the 20th century, which means she experiences Korea's subjugation by Korea prior to World War II, and Korea's independence and civil strife following the war. The book does a good job of bringing to light characters who depict many of the historical themes of the era. We see Jade's loves, her insights at times and blindness at other times. I recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially that which transports one not only to a different time, but also a different place. It should generate a good discussion for book groups.

Carol J. (Isle, MN)

More than a 'Little Land"
What a captivating book! So full of images, traditions, insights into another culture, and history. What a great way to learn about the history of Korea and its people. The characters were engrossing and to follow them for many years through many changes was a gift.
I had previously read about the sea women, so enjoyed that reference in the book.
Would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or character development.

Laurie F. (Brookline, MA)

Wonderful Story of Love During Political Turmoil in Korea
This was a great read, particularly if you are a lover of historical fiction. Throughout the book, you are immersed in the lives of the characters, their relationships, and their circumstances during the Korean political conflicts from 1917 to 1965. The reader follows very young girls that are sold by their families to become courtesans and how their lives evolve and relationships they form (for good or not so good) as they grow into adults. Definitely a good read!

Jan B. (Estes Park, CO)

Beasts of a Little Land - Stalking the Tiger
I enjoyed this book on two levels. One, I was very interested to learn of the history of Korea in that time period. I find my education of that era has been centered in the USA and Europe; but to truly understand and have empathy for the peoples of the world one should know what was happening everywhere. Two, I found the characters woven into a fascinating story of love, deception, trials, greed and survival. The fact that the story took place over half a century allowed the characters to grow and change through the story. What I found that the author, Juhea Kim, did so well was to connect these two areas together in a novel that was hard to put down.

This book is not a "beach read" because the reader needs to keep track of events and characters. It would make an excellent book club choice though as analyzing the characters, their actions and reactions would be very interesting to compare with others.

I would suggest that the reader keep a list of the characters handy as they enter and exit the story many times.

...13 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Juhea Kim

Juhea Kim was born in In Cheon, Korea, and moved to Portland, Oregon, at age nine. She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Art and Archaeology and a certificate in French. Her debut novel, Beasts of a Little Land, will be published in fall 2021 by Ecco in the U.S., and around the world in 2022.

Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Granta, Slice, Zyzzyva, Catapult, Times Literary Supplement,  Joyland, Shenandoah, GuernicaSierra Magazine, The IndependentPortland Monthly, and Dispatches from Annares anthology (Oct 2021, Forest Avenue Press). Her translation of Yi Sang Award-winning author Choi In-Ho was published in Granta. She is the founder and editor of Peaceful Dumpling, an online magazine covering sustainable lifestyle and ecological literature. She has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Environmental Writers' Conference, Regional Arts & Culture Council, and Arizona State University, where she taught a class on ecological fiction as a 2020 Desert Nights Rising Stars Fellow. She is represented by Jody Kahn at Brandt & Hochman Literary Agency and United Talent Agency (film/TV).

She is donating a portion of the proceeds of Beasts of a Little Land to the Phoenix Fund, a Siberian tiger and Amur leopard conservation nonprofit based in Vladivostok, Russia.

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