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 6, 2022, 336 pages

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"What do you want to do with a dead Josenjing? Unless you mean to burn him for fuel—and he'd make an awful fire—you should've left him where you found him."

"The man's still alive. He was hunting alone in these parts, which means he knows the mountains well. He might be able to find the way down," Captain Yamada explained coolly, unfazed by the veiled accusation of softheartedness; after all, that compassion had never been in the library of Yamada's motives and emotions was something both men knew well.

The rest of the group came back, and Captain Yamada ordered Baek to move the unconscious man next to the fire and shout to him in Korean. When he started coming to, Baek called out, smiling like a lunatic, "Sir! Sir! He's waking up!" Captain Yamada had Baek feed the man some crackers and dried persimmon from his own provisions.

"Make sure you stick the cracker in the snow to wet it a bit. He might choke otherwise," Captain Yamada said, and Baek promptly obeyed, holding the man's head on his lap and cooing something softly in Korean.

"Do they know each other?" Major Hayashi asked. He was eating his own supper of stiffly frozen onigiri and some pickled plum. There was even a bottle of sake that the sergeants were now passing around, suddenly merry and heartened.

"I don't think so. Baek didn't seem to recognize him," Captain Yamada said. Police Chief Fukuda also didn't know the man. But one of his officers thought that he might be a certain tenant farmer Nam, whose only distinction from all the other miserable peasants of the area was having once been in the Korean Imperial Army, and thus came to the police's attention.

"A dangerous man then. A viper," Major Hayashi said.

"He might prove himself useful. I would think it well worth keeping him alive for one night, if he can get us down this accursed mountain at dawn," Captain Yamada replied as calmly as ever. He himself ate just a few crackers and a dried persimmon, and prepared to take the first watch.

* * *

THE DAWN CAME without a sunrise, and illumined by the cinereal light the woods materialized around them once more. The absence of sun and shadows made everything seem weightless, as if the trees, rocks, and snow were all made out of soft silver air. It seemed a halfway world, a world between other worlds.

Upon waking to such a morning, Captain Yamada wondered if he was still dreaming and hoped that he would open his eyes to find himself in the warmth of his own bed. Then he realized the next moment where he truly was and felt almost sick to his stomach with disappointment. But by both nature and education, he'd been led to prize rationality and distrust emotions. He held love or even friendship in contempt as delusions of the lower classes, women, and unfit men. The biggest problem with emotions was that they were reactions to externalities rather than one's innate will and deliberate consciousness. Accordingly, he chastised himself for indulging in self-pity and shrugged his blanket off without delay.

Yamada got up and walked away to relieve himself; and there, just yards from where he was sleeping, he discovered huge paw prints, circling around the camp many times. He woke up Baek and the hunter, who had fallen asleep embracing each other for warmth. Baek jumped up instantly when he mentioned the tracks, and started explaining feverishly to the hunter in Korean. The latter man looked ill and weak, though his eyes were astonishingly sharp for someone who had nearly died just the previous night. He whispered something, then Baek helped pull him upright.

"What's he saying?" Captain Yamada asked as the hunter looked down at the tracks and mumbled in Korean.

"He's saying it must be a tiger. There's no other animal that has a footprint as big as a pot lid. Everyone knows that," Baek said. "Now he's saying, we need to go down now. The tiger was here all night watching us, and it's not happy."

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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