Excerpt from Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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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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    Dec 2021, 416 pages

    Dec 2022, 336 pages


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Is this the day I die? he wondered. Suddenly he became very tired, losing all tension that had held him upright. Then he imagined that the snow looked like a steaming bowl of white rice, which he'd only eaten less than five times in his entire life. He didn't become angry—he laughed, as if the laughter were just a wind passing through his thin body. He wanted to think a bit more about foods he would've liked to eat before dying, like braised ribs with soy sauce and scallions, and oxtail broth so rich with melted marrow it sticks to the inside of your mouth. He'd had those things once at a holiday feast. But these fantasies were not as strong or seductive as other memories that now overwhelmed him.

When he first saw Sooni, walking arm in arm with her sisters, on her way to collect wormwood and fiddleheads in the valley. She was thirteen, and he was fifteen.

Sooni, wearing a green silk jacket and a red silk skirt, all embroidered with flowers, and a jeweled headdress—the court dress for royal princesses, which the common folk were allowed to wear only once in their lives for their wedding. A marriage was so sacred in the eyes of gods and men that a lowly tenant farmer's daughter, born and raised in undyed white hemp every day of her entire life, was permitted to play the part of the most noble of women just for a day. He himself was dressed in the official court uniform of a minister, a blue robe with a belt and a hat made of black horsehair. The villagers loudly teased him, How he stares at the bride! He doesn't look like he'll get any sleep tonight. Sooni kept her pretty eyes downcast even while she was walking. Two matrons attended her on either side so she could shuffle slowly under her heavy robes. They faced each other at the altar, took turns offering each other a cup of clear wine, drank from it, and then they were bound to each other forever.

When night fell and they were left alone in their marital chamber, he carefully removed the many silk layers of her princess outfit, which had been worn by every bride in their village for generations. Sooni was shy, unlike her usual cheerful self, and he himself was very nervous. But after he blew the candle out, and caressed her smooth shoulders and kissed her moonlight skin, she wrapped her legs around his waist and raised her hips. He was shocked and grateful that she desired him too. The joy in being one with her was unimaginable. It was the opposite of standing high in the mountains, which had been the most intense happiness he'd known until then. Whereas that was an ecstasy of height, coolness, and solitude, this was an ecstasy of depth, warmth, and union. He wrapped an arm around her and she nestled her head on the nook between his shoulder and chest. Are you happy? he'd asked. I wish we could be like this forever, she'd whispered. But I'm also so happy that I wouldn't have any regrets if I died right now. Like I wouldn't even be mad.

Me too, he'd said. That's exactly how I feel too.

The hunter felt himself fall into a soft, cloudy mound of memories. It was so sweet to let go of his grip on the present and dwell among the shadows of the past. Slipping into death really wasn't so bad—it was rather like passing through a door to a world of dreams. He closed his eyes. He could almost see Sooni gently calling out to him, My husband, my darling, I've been waiting for you. Come home.

Why did you leave me, he said. Do you know how hard it's been for me?

I was always next to you, Sooni said. You and the kids.

I want to go with you, he said, and waited for her to take him away.

Not yet, but soon, she said.

His eyes snapped open as he realized he really was hearing a sound. A soft breathing sound that came from the edge of the cliff, whence an icy fog was emanating like incense. Instinctively he readied his bow, knowing that even if he got his prey, he likely wouldn't make it down the mountain. He just didn't want to end up as a leopard's meal.

Excerpted from Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim. Copyright © 2021 by Juhea Kim. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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