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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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