Beasts of a Little Land, by Juhea Kim

charl0ttesm1th's review against another edition

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3.5 ⭐️

i went into this novel with high hopes. i thought i would be absolutely captivated with the characters and the setting, but unfortunately it never quite got there for me. this story spans over many decades, and there were so many supporting characters that i found it difficult to keep up with. i felt that the characters were also very hard to empathize with. by the end of the story, i only liked one character :-(

all that being said, Juhea Kim’s writing is impeccable. her lyrical prose is truly unlike any other, and the way she was effortlessly able to weave so many different people and relationships was beautiful. the content in this novel was definitely heavy at times, but Juhea Kim never failed to approach it with sincerity and i never felt like these moments were included for shock value.

in addition to the writing, i enjoyed how Korea was treated as if it were a character in the novel, rather than just the setting. the vivid descriptions of Korea were so alluring and lovely, it gave the country a magical feel. as someone who wasn’t too familiar with Korea, or the Korean Independence Movement prior to reading, this novel captured its essence in a stunning and alluring way.

thank you to NetGalley and Ecco for allowing me to read this ARC!

CW: violence, rape, sexual assault, animal death, sexism

julies_cupsoftea's review against another edition

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Beasts of a Little Land is an exquisite piece of work that engages all of your senses with its florid writing, intimate characters, and gratifying loyalty to history. The story spans multiple decades, starting from Japan's annexation of Korea at the dawn of the 20th century up to the post-civil war era under a pro-American, anti-Communist dictatorial regime in the 1960s. It's as much about the brutal and dehumanizing colonization that Koreans suffered through as it is about love and the unfortunate, heartbreaking crisscrossing of inyeon, an almost spiritual connection that draws one's life into another. I was a bit skeptical when I saw the word 'courtesan' in the description and worried that it would be another repetition of the "sex worker who finds love" trope that I find too often in books based on this period. I was obviously wrong seeing that I finished the book curled up in bed with a tear (or two) in my eyes.

This book is utterly, unapologetically, obstinately Korean. For that, I am grateful to the author. The sentimentality of generational han underpinning every desperate claw for a chance to feel human, the mesmerizing colors and smells that envelop the land's earth, sky, and mountains, the somber "it is what it is" attitude that sustained battle-worn, oppression-torn people. Kim traverses every nook and cranny of Korea, not as the divided nation we know of now but as the people and land it once was, from Pyongyang to Jejudo, before avaricious forces demanded each of their own pieces. It's so beautifully written, so painstakingly remembered. It's embarrassing to admit that even though I had grown up learning Korean history in school, I had never realized the enormity of time that saturated this period with suffering, loss, and mourning.

Kim sends subtle nods to Korean history throughout the book, from the prominence of the Andong-Kim family and the creation myth of Ung-nyeo to the March 1st Movement and Ahn Jung-geun's assassination of Ito Hirobumi at Harbin, without shoving pedantic facts down your throat. You would think that the author would be trying to do too much by packing in half a century's history, but no. The story was told with such magical and rich detail that some of my favorite lines had nothing to do with the characters but everything to do with conjuring up the tactical sensations of the time. I wish I could read the book all over again just to feel the same waves of excitement, disappointment, and yearning for unrealized inyeons.

I really hope this book takes off and reaches a wider audience. Feeling incredibly grateful for such a hopeful story brimming with love and longing.

Thank you to the publisher for making this ARC available through Netgalley.

beaconhillbooks's review

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challenging dark emotional informative reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


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littlemonster's review

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adventurous challenging dark emotional informative reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes



Thank you to NetGalley and Ecco for allowing me to read this ARC!

Content Warning: graphic violence, murder, graphic rape, sexism, graphic sexual assault, animal death.

Beginning in the snowy mountains of Korea in 1917, Beasts of a Little Land stars two primary characters, the irascible, wily JungHo, and a young girl named Jade. They're both victims of circumstance, thrust into frightening new lives by poverty and the ongoing war, and when by chance they meet in Seoul, it spurs on a friendship that will last for decades.

I can't tell you how highly anticipated this book was for me. The idea of a novel that spans the majority of the Korean War for Independence, going from place to place and following a group of several main characters who all get their own chapters at some point, was thrilling. The first couple of pages are immediately engaging, the descriptions of this snow-encrusted mountainside and the weary hunter vivid and picturesque. There were some truly beautiful similes and turns-of-phrase.

Kim's depiction of the Japanese colonizers is appropriately brutal, leaving you with scenes that are both hard to stomach and yet beautifully written nonetheless. It struck me as being aptly and efficiently done, and while there are many graphic scenes in this book, never did I feel it was used purely for shock value. Like many of the books we read about atrocities in history, this one was both grim and yet beneath the surfaced flowed a current of hope.

I'm afraid to say that I was a touch disappointed, not so much in the book itself, but in my reaction to it! I thought I would be absolutely enamored with the characters and the world, but unfortunately, it didn't quite reach that level for me. I think that because the novel spans so many decades with so many main and supporting characters, it leaves you feeling a bit as if you're rushing through their lives. There were moments when I wanted to spend another chapter in, for example, 1933, but we moved onto the beginning of WWII.

I was also unsure if I was meant to sympathize with JungHo in some parts. At first, I found him very charming, and I rooted for him, but as the novel goes on he does some things that left me feeling quite cold towards him. 

However, I by no means would not recommend Kim's beautiful, heartrending showcase of Korea's fight for freedom. If you're a lover of history and fascinated by Korea and its history, I would heartily recommend picking it up and giving it a go. Something to be kept in mind is that the story itself isn't so much about the characters within, but about Korea as if it were its own living, breathing being.