Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim is a novel which analyzes Japan’s rule of Korea using interweaving characters and shows how the people there dealt with turmoil. The main character the novel focuses on is Jade, who is sold to a brothel to be raised as courtesan. Along the way, she meets her lifelong friend, becomes a famous actress, witnesses brutal acts by the Japanese soldiers, and falls in love. The rest of the characters seem to revolve around Jade, from JungHo and HanChol vying for her love, to her foster aunt Dani, to the Japanese officers, to her friend Lotus. The novel is a rich tapestry of political alliances, lovers, friends, and conflicts that arise in a country under the forceful rule of an intruder.
I was particularly drawn to the recurring themes and metaphors of the tiger, which was seen as both mystical and, to the Japanese, something to be conquered. I loved the way Kim paralleled the way the treatment of the tigers was reflected in the treatment of the Korean people. Additionally, its prologue which began with a hunt for an animal, was brought up in moments of intensity between Ito and JungHo, and Yamada’s death in the snow dappled forest. There was a tightness to the flow if the story, and I found myself quite intrigued with JungHo’s plotline. Though, I felt that the use of first person in the beginning of part two and the epilogue didn’t seem to capture the same magic the rest of the book did. I understand why (to show the intimacy of JungHo and Jade’s connection) but it didn’t feel as strong. Overall, I felt that this novel worked to convey the brutality of the Japanese, the beginnings of love, and what it meant to live in Korea during the occupation.
Final Rating: 4/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.