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BookBrowse Reviews Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

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Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

Beasts of a Little Land

A Novel

by Juhea Kim
  • Critics' Opinion:
  • Readers' Opinion:
  • First Published:
  • Dec 7, 2021
  • Paperback:
  • Dec 2022
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About This Book



A beautifully written, character-driven epic spanning 50 years of Korean history.

Our First Impressions readers found Juhea Kim's epic debut about life in Korea during the early-to-mid 20th century to be a nuanced and fascinating work of historical fiction. Out of the 18 who reviewed it, 14 readers gave Beasts of a Little Land 4 or 5 stars.

What the book is about:

Beasts of a Little Land traces 50 years of Korean history, from the Russo-Japanese war, through World War II and after. Action takes place from the poverty-stricken border with Manchuria to the bustling city of Seoul, from resistance movements against the Japanese to the growth of the Communist party and the post-war creation of two Koreas at the 38th parallel (Gail B). During Korea's colonization by Japan, during the struggle for independence, during World War II, during the time of conflict between the communists and those wanting a free Korea, author Kim intertwines the lives of beggars, courtesans, military personnel and businessmen. Jade, a young girl sold into courtesan training, and JungHo, an orphan beggar from the country, meet, become friends, helpers and wishful lovers, adversaries, antagonists, but often think and dream about each other. Surrounding Jade and JungHo are Jade's fellow courtesans and madam, and JungHo's gang of fellow orphans and thieves (Marion M).

Many readers appreciated Kim's beautiful writing style and plotting.

Some beatifically lyrical sentences had me reading them more than once (Lee M). 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 (Alyson R). When I finished reading Beasts of a Little Land, the first thought that came into my head was that this did not read like a debut at all. From the story structure to the development of the characters, to the historical details as well as the various themes and motifs incorporated into the narrative, the writing flowed so well and so seamlessly that I was completely immersed in this epic story from beginning to end (Louisa L).

The book spans half a century, allowing readers to see how each well-crafted character grows and changes with their circumstances.

The characters were engrossing and to follow them for many years through many changes was a gift. Would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or character development (Carol J). 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. Introduced to a suite of individuals from various levels of Korean and Japanese society, we see how they are 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 (Alyson R). This is a story where all the supporting characters play vital roles in the narrative, but not only that, all of the characters — whether good or bad, endearing or despicable — are equally unforgettable (Louisa L).

Some reviewers appreciated the opportunity to learn about Korean history.

Historical fiction is a favorite genre, and this novel by Juhea Kim is a successful introduction into Korean history of the 20th century (Gail B). 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 (Pamela W).

Readers also noted that Beasts of a Little Land would make a great book club selection.

It would make an excellent book club choice, as analyzing the characters and their actions and reactions would be very interesting to compare with others (Jan B). I recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. It should generate a good discussion for book groups (Bettie T). The title alone would make for exciting book club discussion. Who are the beasts? (Pamela W).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2022, and has been updated for the January 2023 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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