Gorgeous prose and unforgettable characters combine to make a literary masterpiece.

BEASTS OF A LITTLE LAND

An epic novel brings complex 20th-century Korean history to life.

In this extraordinary historical novel, debut author Kim weaves together the story of friends and rivals trying to survive and thrive from the era of the Japanese occupation of Korea to the political purges of the mid-20th century. The book begins with a Korean hunter encountering a tiger in the snow when he is captured by a lost squad of Japanese soldiers. With its near-mythic evocations of several kinds of beasts, the prologue establishes the themes of the book. The majority of the novel follows Jade, whose impoverished farming family sends her as a young girl to work as a servant for a courtesan. Jade observes the rivalries of other girls in training, particularly Luna, the spoiled favored daughter of the head of the household, and Lotus, the spirited but plainer younger sister. Thanks to her intelligence and resourcefulness, Jade will grow up to become a celebrated courtesan and movie star in Seoul, where she and the two sisters end up as adults. Together they encounter various men, including the revolution-minded MyungBo, an intellectual fighting for Korean independence; the ever loyal JungHo, the leader of a street gang of orphaned boys; the slick and wealthy patron SungSoo; and the ambitious rickshaw driver HanChol. Jade, Luna, and Lotus fall in love with men from very different backgrounds, but their love and loyalty are not always returned. Kim shows clearly how patriarchy harms these resourceful women in one of the novel's major themes. Late in the book a Japanese general will remark, "How such enormous beasts have flourished in this little land is incomprehensible." He is referring to tigers, but he might as well be talking about the humans who fight here, too.

Gorgeous prose and unforgettable characters combine to make a literary masterpiece.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-309357-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

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THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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