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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  • First Published:
    Dec 2021, 416 pages

    Paperback:
    Dec 2022, 336 pages

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"So what do you think we should do then, Captain?" Major Hayashi said, slowly and deliberately, as though they were back in the barracks and not in the snowy mountains, the night fast closing down on them.

"It's getting darker by the minute, and we won't find the right way at night if we lost it by day. We should make camp for tonight. As long as we can avoid freezing to death, we'll be able to make our way down tomorrow at first light."

The group fell even quieter, anxiously anticipating Major Hayashi's reaction. He had never before become impatient with Captain Yamada's impertinence, but this time, in such a dire state, the conflict had an air of mutiny. Major Hayashi regarded his subordinate's face with cool indifference, wearing the kind of expression he had when considering a new pair of boots or the best way to skin a rabbit. In spite of his pure and profound brutality, Hayashi was not a man given to uncalculated outbursts. At last, he turned to a sergeant and started giving orders for making camp. The group, visibly relieved, dispersed to collect firewood, or such as could be had when it was snowy and wet.

"Not you—you stay here with me," Major Hayashi said when the Korean guide, a timid creature named Baek, tried to scurry away. "Do you think I'd let you out of my sight?" Baek wrung his hands and whimpered, staring down at his feet bound in rags and shod in wet leather shoes.

Shortly after being assigned to the prefecture, Major Hayashi had asked Police Chief Fukuda where he could find game in these parts. Fukuda, who had made a detailed report and census of every Korean within fifty miles, had recommended three locals for the task of guiding their hunting party. The other two were potato farmers whom even other Koreans deemed quite savage, cloistered in the deep mountains, mating among themselves, and living off the land, only coming out to join the rest of the world a handful of times a year on market days. They both knew every stick and stone in the mountains—but Baek, a traveling silk merchant, was the only one who could speak Japanese. Major Hayashi had considered that to be a more important qualification, much to the regret of all, not least Baek himself.

* * *

IT WOULD BECOME ONE OF the images that would flash in front of Captain Yamada's eyes, just before the end of his life. The bearded man lying under the moonlight. When he'd gone about twenty feet into the woods to collect firewood, he nearly stumbled over the body sprawled out on the snow. After the initial shock, what struck Captain Yamada was how the man was spread calmly on his back, both hands over his heart—as if he hadn't frozen to death, but had fallen asleep in a moment of rapture. The second thing that struck him was how poorly clad this small man was. The quilted jacket he wore was so thin that the sharp angles of his shoulder blades showed clearly through.

Captain Yamada circled around the body. Then, for reasons he himself couldn't understand in retrospect, he lowered his ear to the bluish face.

"Hey, hey! Wake up!" he shouted, realizing that there was a trace of breath still flowing from the man's nostrils. When there was no response, Captain Yamada took the man's face in his hands and slapped it lightly. The man began to moan almost inaudibly.

Captain Yamada placed the man's head back on the snow. There was no reason he needed to help this nearly dead Josenjing, more of a vermin than a person. Captain Yamada started heading back toward the camp, but after a few steps he turned around, without understanding why. Sometimes the human heart was like a dark forest, and even a man as rational as Yamada had mysteries within. He picked up Josenjing in his arms, almost as easily as if he were a child.

"What the hell is this?" barked Major Hayashi when he returned.

"I found him in the woods," Captain Yamada said as he laid the man down on the ground.

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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