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Juhea Kim

Autor/a de Beasts of a Little Land

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Korea (birth)



Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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.


My Review
: Starting an historical novel with a hunting scene is pretty much a statement of intent: We're heading into conflict! There's nothing about this going to be smooth and easy!

It isn't, for the characters at least. The value of self to family, to society; the value of individuation, personal or political; the value of loyalty, fidelity, honor: All strands in this novel's braid. What keeps these weighty themes from becoming burdensome to follow is the resonant writing.
It appeared to him that no matter how much he gave, he would always have more than enough. As he grew older, he even relished the struggles brought on by his sacrifices. There was a soaring awareness that illuminated his soul whenever he did the right thing, which also cost him something. This euphoria, however, was balanced by the utter terror he felt when he looked around and saw so many others to whom this consciousness was not only absent, but unknowable and abhorrent. Most people, MyungBo realized, were made of a different material than his, and it was not something that could shift, as from coldness to warmth, but an elemental and fundamental difference, like wood from metal.

This is, in my reading ear, the musing of a smart man on an immutable truth that does not ever appear the same way from person to person preceiving it; and, in his musing, retaining that awareness. I rang like a bell to this soft hammer striking me.

Current event make this read all the more trenchant. The world has never lacked people or peoples hard done by, consigned to lesser states of being than is their natural right by some standard or quality invented, "discovered," or detected without evidence of its relevance or importance. This passage in history, well, if I really need to spell it out for you I don't want to. This novel has a thriving culture that is suddenly deemed inferior, much to their mass outraged disbelief; this invented inferiority excuses a colonial oppression that has as its purpose eradicating a people's soul to be replaced with their oppressors' vision of perfect slaves.

And that, I expect you already know, is a hateful, criminal enterprise with many, many collaborators inside the edifice being created, as well as...much more terribly...many times more outside. When the day arrives that the false and ill-fitting, ramshackle and improvised, structure collapses, things brak and shatter and split and buckle in random-seeming shapes without patterns. Lives and loves and entire branches of family history jumble in lethal chaos, not every deat physical.

It might be the psychological ones that cause the most suffering.

What Juhea Kim has done for us is map that chaos onto one family of highly effective people who still can't save their lives, their loves, their lands without unthinkable suffering rippling out from the Korean nation's convulsive death-agonies, its multiplicity of death-agonies, and find in that chaos the undetected in the time of crisis pattern that supports random bits of the past just enough to provide the seeds for pearls to come, yet to come.

In 2024, this rread, beautiful for and in itself, means so much more than it did when it came out in 2021. It can speak its truth of betrayal and cruelty into a landscape more like itself; more like the one that needs to hear that truth said without rage or outrage or plangent pleading blame-shoving. I'd love for everyone I know, everyone I can reach, to at the least try this lovely flower's powerful fruit.

… (més)
1 vota
richardderus | Hi ha 21 ressenyes més | May 10, 2024 |
A Korean hunter saves a Japanese soldier from a tiger. The story follows the hunter’s son and the soldier, and the many people’s lives touched by them both during the Japanese occupation of Korea, but especially the son’s great love, courtesan Jade. This is a deep dive into the dreadful occupation and how Korean’s survived and the aftermath. It’s an excellent read if a little slow.
KarenMonsen | Hi ha 21 ressenyes més | Apr 1, 2024 |
A stunning saga spun with multiple POVs and poetic writing that is one of the strongest debut novels I've ever read. "Beasts of Little Land" spans about fifty years of Korea's history, starting in 1917, moving into the Japanese annexation and occupation of Korea, the fight for independence, and finally ending with the split along the 38th parallel. It's a brutal book at times, yet also immensely hopeful; this is largely due to Kim's exploration of inyeon, a word that means a connection or tied-in fate to someone in a meaningful way. Right from the beginning Kim starts tying together the cast of characters in ways both seen and unseen, and watching each person move towards and around the others throughout the course of the novel is deeply rewarding.
Just all around a beautiful and meditative book that I'd definitely recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that deals with explorations of fate, the effects of war and of decision making, and the things that bind humans together.
… (més)
deborahee | Hi ha 21 ressenyes més | Feb 23, 2024 |
WOW, this was good. Despite all the reading/watching of Korean books and dramas I have done over the past few years, as I read this it became painfully obvious that it has all been either contemporary or deep history. Of course I am/was aware of the Japanese annexation/occupation, but almost entirely as it affects those who left, looking back at it now.

I think Kim does a masterful job here, balancing hope and despair, the epic and the personal. There were moments I was worried the book would stray too dark or too melodramatic for me, but Kim doesn't dwell on the darkest of topics (She doesn't shy away from them either — check the content warnings for SA, starvation, addiction, domestic abuse, and more).

In an author interview, Kim said one of the things she wanted to do with this novel was show how people attempt to live meaningful lives while the world is ending. Kim follows a number of characters here who have wildly different values. Seeing each of those lives play out, the choices they make, the things they gain and the things they lose, accomplished that very well.
… (més)
greeniezona | Hi ha 21 ressenyes més | Feb 18, 2024 |


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