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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"Why didn't anyone on watch see this tiger?" Captain Yamada asked, feeling irritated at the ones who had taken over after him. Baek relayed this to the hunter and then translated his answer.

"He says the tiger didn't want to be seen. You see tigers when they want to be seen, not a moment before. We're in their home, their land, so it's best we leave it alone and go quietly."

"Nonsense. If I see that beast before we make it down, I will kill it—and present the skin and the meat to the governor-general," Captain Yamada said. "You cowardly Josenjing slaves know nothing of bravery."

Baek hung his head low in acceptance. Nonetheless it was clear to all, especially Captain Yamada, that the sooner they could find their way out of the mountain, the better. The hunter led the way with surprising agility, given that he'd only broken his fast with a bit of rice crackers, seaweed, and pickles: it seemed that he was used to surviving on very little food. Captain Yamada had confiscated his bow and arrows, but the hunter appeared to take that as a matter of course and briskly slipped through the trees, neither resentful nor pleading.

"Be sure to shoot him if he tries to run," Major Hayashi said, and the captain replied, "Yes, sir."

The sun stayed hidden on this gray day, and the world became gradually brighter without any visible light. The wind pricked their skin like a thousand points of ice, colder and less forgiving than on the previous day. Every step they made turned into deep, clear impressions on the snow, and the hunter turned around from time to time as if worried. He whispered to Baek, who delivered the message to Captain Yamada.

"Please, we must move more quickly, he says," Baek pleaded. "He's certain the tiger is tracking us, and quite likely right at our heels."

"You Josenjing are truly pathetic, cowardly worms," Captain Yamada said scornfully. "Tell him we have guns, not bows and arrows. The officers in the Japanese Imperial Army do not flee from animals—we hunt them."

Baek fell silent and shuffled back to his place in the group, behind the hunter. The others smiled and nodded assent to the captain's speech, and boasted about this or that hunting party they had been on, and animals that they'd killed since coming to Joseon: white leopard cubs with ice-blue eyes, black bears with a pale crescent moon mark on their chest, stags, and wolves. But none claimed to have hunted a tiger which, though supposedly omnipresent, was the most clever creature of them all.

Even their boasts died down as time passed. With the sun moving across the sky unseen, they couldn't guess what time it was except through hunger and a creeping frustration. They hadn't planned on being lost for almost an entire day, and after a scanty-enough dinner, most of them had finished off their last provisions at breakfast. They marched in silence, until the hunter stopped in his tracks and held out his hand to the rest of the group. He pointed at a tree that was still swinging slightly, shedding snow as fine and white as sea spray.

"What is it?" Captain Yamada asked Baek. But before he could answer, they heard a deep, haunting sound, like thunder during the Long Rain season. They all felt an indescribable gaze of an unknown power; it was coming from the flash of orange and black between the trees just ahead of them—less than twenty yards away. It was watching them boldly, unmoving save for the twitching of its shaggy, frosted mane. Its bright yellow eyes dotted with jet-black pupils were the only things so vivid and alive in this world of only white.

Within a second, the soldiers all drew out their rifles and aimed at the tiger, which remained as still as a statue. Captain Yamada gave a nod to his officers, then fired the first shot of the many bullets that flew almost simultaneously from the squad. Triggered by the attack, the tiger took to its feet and started bounding toward them as if flying. It covered the yards between them in the blink of an eye as the soldiers froze in their places. Captain Yamada felt his heart turn to ice just as someone started moving across his field of vision. The hunter was rushing forward, holding both his hands up in the air.

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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