Summary and book reviews of Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

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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  • Published:
    Dec 2021, 416 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

An epic story of love, war, and redemption set against the backdrop of the Korean independence movement, following the intertwined fates of a young girl sold to a courtesan school and the penniless son of a hunter.

In 1917, deep in the snowy mountains of occupied Korea, an impoverished local hunter on the brink of starvation saves a young Japanese officer from an attacking tiger. In an instant, their fates are connected—and from this encounter unfolds a saga that spans half a century.

In the aftermath, a young girl named Jade is sold by her family to Miss Silver's courtesan school, an act of desperation that will cement her place in the lowest social status. When she befriends an orphan boy named JungHo, who scrapes together a living begging on the streets of Seoul, they form a deep friendship. As they come of age, JungHo is swept up in the revolutionary fight for independence, and Jade becomes a sought-after performer with a new romantic prospect of noble birth. Soon Jade must decide whether she will risk everything for the one who would do the same for her.

From the perfumed chambers of a courtesan school in Pyongyang to the glamorous cafes of a modernizing Seoul and the boreal forests of Manchuria, where battles rage, Juhea Kim's unforgettable characters forge their own destinies as they wager their nation's. Immersive and elegant, Beasts of a Little Land unveils a world where friends become enemies, enemies become saviors, heroes are persecuted, and beasts take many shapes.

Prologue

The Hunter

1917

THE SKY WAS WHITE AND THE EARTH WAS BLACK, LIKE AT THE BEGINNING of time before the first sunrise. Clouds left their realm and descended so low that they seemed to touch the ground. Giant pines loomed in and out of the ether. Nothing stirred or made a sound.

Hardly distinguishable in this obscure world, a speck of a man was walking alone. A hunter. Crouching over a raw paw print, still soft and almost warm, he sniffed in the direction of his prey. The sharp smell of snow filled his lungs, and he smiled. Soon, a light dusting would make it easier for him to track the animal—a large leopard, he guessed, from the size of the print.

He rose quietly like a shade among the trees. The animals moved without a sound, here in their own domain, but the mountains belonged to him also—or rather, he, like the animals, belonged to the mountains.

Not because they were generous or comforting, for nowhere in these woods was safe for man or beast. But he...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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). 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)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

USA Today
You wouldn't know from reading it that Beasts of a Little Land is Kim's debut novel. There is no shortage of ambition on display here, and fleet-footed narrative pacing to match it…. A book written with warmth [and] wisdom.

Harper's Bazaar, a Best Book of 2021
Some people say that all stories are about either love or war. Set against the backdrop of early 20th-century Korea, Kim's epic debut novel is about both.

Chicago Review of Books
A potent and immersive reading experience, alive to the particulars of its place and time. Intimate but politically resonant, it's perfect for fans of Min Jin Lee and Isabelle Allende.

Historical Novels Review, Editor's Choice
Beautiful…. The writing has a dreamlike quality that immerses the reader in a fascinating world….. Not only is this a gorgeously written story, but Kim also gives us insight into a historical period with which many Westerners will be unfamiliar.

Publishers Weekly
Kim's dreamy, intense debut is both a sure-footed historical account of the Korean struggle for independence from Japan and the emotionally fraught story of several people whose lives are inextricably tied together... The author's off to a strong start.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Gorgeous prose and unforgettable characters combine to make a literary masterpiece.

Booklist (starred review)
Kim's debut novel wondrously reveals broken families and surprising alliances created by uncontrollable circumstances… [A] richly alluring and significant first novel.

Author Blurb Keija Parssinen, author of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis
Elegant and wise, lush and immersive, Beasts of a Little Land is Tolstoyan in its sweep and ambition as it brings to life the Korean struggle against Japanese occupation and the making of a modern nation in the first half of the 20th century. Juhea Kim is a conjurer of rare ability whose magnificent debut utterly enchants.

Author Blurb Alexis Schaitkin, author of Saint X
Beasts of a Little Land is a stunning chronicle of the Korean peninsula during the tumultuous decades leading to independence and partition. Told through the lives of a rich cast of characters—courtesans, Japanese generals, and revolutionaries—whose stories intertwine in the most unexpected ways, it is by turns political and sensual, epic and intimate. It is also a profound meditation on place; Kim evokes the urban and natural landscapes of Korea with transporting beauty. This novel will devastate you and then still you with its wise meditations on love and loss. I couldn't put it down.

Reader Reviews

Beemer

Inyeon in the time of Korea's epic struggle for independence
In this excellent debut novel, we go from the wilds of mountainous North Korea to the grit and gloss of Seoul. This historical fiction novel takes us from 1917 through 1965, during Korea's fight to crawl out from under Japanese occupation. It's 416 ...   Read More
Alyson R. (Spokane, WA)

Multifaceted characters capture humanity's good, bad, and gray features in early 20th-century Japanese-occupied Korea
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. Not being familiar with Korean history, it was an eye-opener learning about the Japanese ...   Read More
Pamela W. (Piney Flats, TN)

History through Fiction
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 ...   Read More
Bettie T. (Johns Island, SC)

Love and War in Korea
This was a book that pulled me in to some complex, albeit imperfect, characters, and to a better understanding of the culture and history of Korea, a land exotic to me. Our main character, Jade, is sent as a child to become the servant of a woman who...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Japanese Occupation of Korea (1910-1945)

March 1st Movement demonstration, 1919 Juhea Kim's Beasts of a Little Land covers half a century of Korean history, including the Japanese occupation of Korea. The occupation began in 1910, when Japan annexed the Korean peninsula. This occurred after years of attempts by the Japanese government to exert rule over Korea, due in part to its economic interest in the country's geographic positioning and resources.

During colonial rule, the Korean language was forbidden in schools, and Korean historical documents were destroyed. Koreans were expected to assimilate to Japanese culture, to the extent of taking on Japanese names and engaging in Shinto worship, a practice aligned with traditional Japanese religious and ideological beliefs. Japanese occupiers exploited Koreans for ...

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