Book Review

Beasts Of A Little Land

Beasts of a Little Land

  • Author: Juhea Kim
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: December 7, 2021
  • Publisher: HarperAudio

Thank you to libro.fm for providing me with an ALC of this audiobook. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: murder, violence, rape, mention of addiction, mention of domestic violence

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

This is an epic story that spans a period in Korean history from 1917-1965, and made me realize how ignorant I am in regards to all aspects of Korean history. Through this book, I learned about the Japanese occupation of Korea, the resistance movement for independence, the division of the country into North and South Korea, and the foreign influences on politics in the country, all of which was taken from dry, factual information and transformed into living history through the eyes of various characters in the story.

It centers around two main characters — Jade, who is sold into life as a courtesan, and JungHo, a poor orphan living in Seoul. Their paths cross when they are young, and they continuously intersect at various points throughout the story. All of the characters are forced to make difficult decisions, as many people are during stressful times, and especially war and political upheaval. Neither of the MCs have much control over their life circumstances, but they each make the best of difficult situations, and it’s hard not to like their personalities.

Since I listened to the audiobook, I thought that the narrators did a great job. Sue Jean Kim and Raymond Lee brought this story to life, alternately narrating chapters and breathing life into their characters. My only difficulty was with differentiating between certain character names. There was one name that sounded a lot like JungHo, and at first I had difficulty figuring out that it was someone else, but context helped a lot. However, hearing the Korean words pronounced properly (in a way I never could have if I read the book in a printed form) was beautiful and authentic, making me glad that I did listen to the audiobook. 

I was completely absorbed into the story, waiting to find out what happened next to the characters as well as to the fate of the country. It was even more intriguing because I had no idea what was going to happen to the country, aside from the division. While the romantic aspects of the story fell a little short of the mark for me, she was also writing about times in which love wasn’t a priority. She did, however, manage to write unforgettable characters that will stick with me long after the reading of this book. 

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