Fiction. Northeast Asian American Studies. The latest from Korean-American author Maija Rhee Devine, THE VOICES OF HEAVEN is a rare gem in English-language literature about Korea, a story that takes us deep into the devotion and secrets of a family living in Seoul at the cusp of the Korean War. A tale that spans decades, THE VOICES OF HEAVEN has been expertly woven together to reveal not only the injustices of unmitigated life circumstances but also the restorative power of truth and love. Maija Rhee Devine presents a stellar cast of empathetic characters to spin a tale that draws readers into the shadows of Korea's Confucian web that at once constrains and defines the powerful will of its people.
During the final years of the Japanese Occupation, when most Korean brides and grooms were married sight unseen, Gui-yong and Eum-chun strike gold by finding a love as sweet as sticky rice. But their love for each other and for their secretly adopted daughter is not enough, as they must soon accept the impossible—a mistress moving in to bear Gui-yong the male child deemed necessary in a society still smoldering in Confucianism. After the Korean War drives the family apart, it falls on the shoulders of their adopted daughter, Mi-Na, to figure out how to keep her parents' love burning through this life and into the next—and ultimately make sense of the past.
Flowing from her firsthand experience of growing up in Seoul during the Korean War, Maija Rhee Devine's novel reveals uniquely Korean colors and sounds as she leads readers through an extraordinary love story that parallels the tragedies of the war.
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Maija Rhee Devine is a write whose fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, North American Review, The Kenyon Review, and various anthologies. A Korean-born writer, she holds a BA in English from Sogang University in Seoul and an MA in English from St. Louis University. Writing honors include an NEA grant and nominations for a Pushcart Prize and an O. Henry Award. The author is married to Michael J. Devine, the director of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I grew up on Pearl S. Buck's novels and treasured each moment spent dreaming around the tales she wove of the Far East. Just as Rudyard Kipling's books introduced me to the mysterious world of Rajahs, these novels became friends I loathed to put down as I imagined myself punting on the Yangtze or Li rivers and marveled at the magnificent Yellow Mountains near Huangshan city. The Voices of Heaven is the first novel I came across written by a Korean/American and as such brought a unique Asian flavour I found deeply arresting. As only a native can, Maija Rhee Devine has captured a past few Europeans (Americans) are familiar with and its raw beauty reminds us history shapes our future (however a cliche it might sound). Listed as USA Best Book Awards finalist, this uninhibited novel introduces us to unparalleled levels of love and obedience in a society ruled by centuries old traditions. I found this love story to be at times raw, elemental, always dignified if painful but also unforgettable and well worth reading. The author's poetic writing style flows perfectly, its intimate imagery proof of her roots. Love, duty and loyalty is intricately woven in the symmetry of those lives she touches as she remembers her own past albeit the story is fictional. Alternately spoken by each protagonist, its dramatic timeline covering before, during and after the Korean war, it would be hard to decide who loved most in this story! 'A Hemp Robe And Juniper', Maija Rhee Devine's emotional epilogue, reflects the colourful contrast of a progressive country steamed in contradictions. Here like everywhere else, the past and the present cannot be dismissed. The status of a woman's place or the specter of adoption in this society cannot fail to reach out to each and everyone of us! 5 Stars for historical context, unique love story and dramatic message! I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author as part of her book promotion. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 'Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. I was not asked to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
In The Voices of Heaven, Maija Rhee Devine writes a tale with characters so deep, complex, and real, the reader is immediately drawn in to their world. The story opens with Soo-yang, a bride-to-be on the day before her wedding to a man she has never met, a man who already has one wife. Her mother, as she shampoos Soo-yang’s hair with reed-scented rainwater, coaches her daughter with advice such as “never show your teeth, breathe quietly, and keep your eyes turned down to your toes.” Her upcoming marriage is not the stuff American dreams are made of. In pre-Korean war days in Seoul, a man was encouraged—even pressured—to take a second wife if his first wife failed to bear him sons. This is the circumstance of Soo-yang’s wedding. Her mother tells her, “Even if you get the luck of having a gold-filled pumpkin drop on you, and you bear sons as sturdy and cute as toads, you’ll have heartbreaks. Your name will never go on your husband’s record, not as his wife nor as the mother of your children… You’ll teach your children to call his wife ‘Big Mommy’… this is the rule of our land.” Devine writes with heartfelt accuracy about Soo-yang’s feelings, the groom’s feelings, and the first wife’s feelings. I couldn’t help but feel compassion for each of them as they are victims of the cultural and religious beliefs they are born in. The story travels through the Korean war and the days and years after, seamlessly weaving historic fact into the drama. Reading the Korean perspective of the American and Japanese involvement in the war is interesting and educational. I love the author’s unique voice. Having grown up in Korea, she knows the customs, food, ceremonies, as well as the mindset of the people. She describes the heavenly smells of sesame oil, rice wrapped in seaweed, barley tea, and dried squid and fermented octopus in the open market. She takes you inside a shaman’s ceremony where the shaman whirls, dances on knife blades, and foretells the future. Throughout, the theme of hope and love survive, in spite of all odds. Even when the war separates a husband and wife, neither of them give up looking for the other, refusing to believe their partner has not survived. The universal need for safety, security, and acceptance transcend time and culture. With a caution for some coarse language due to the Korean culture of the day, I highly recommend this fascinating novel.
A great new historical fiction about a family during the Korean War. “The Voices of Heaven” is Maija Rhee Devine’s new historical fiction about one family’s life during the Korean War. The novel focuses around Gui-yong and Eum-chun’s decision to bring a mistress into their household, all in the hopes of finally adding a son and heir to their family. This decision ends up affecting not only their marriage, but also their daughter and their experiences and decisions for the rest of their lives. Gui-yong loves his wife, something rarely found in a culture where grooms never saw their brides before their wedding day. Eum-chun, his wife, is heartbroken she cannot have children, and therefore cannot give the love of her life what their culture deems they must have, a son. This lack is felt most severely by Mi-Na, their secretly adopted daughter. Thinking she is biological, she blames herself for being female. Thus requiring the new mistress to enter the household and change their lives forever. “The Voices of Heaven” follows their joy, sorrow, trials, and tribulations through peace and war. Devine’s character development was extraordinary. The reader delves into the emotions and thoughts of each character over the span of decades. The characters are easy for the reader to relate to and empathize with. The novel is written using a writing style that is different from most novels, giving it a singsong quality and using phrases and descriptors not commonly seen. To me, this added authenticity to the novel and the over-all feel. I also thoroughly enjoyed the cultural details found in the book. It is hard to imagine in America a family purposely bringing a mistress into a household solely to have a son the wife will claim as her own. The idea of such sexism is mind-boggling. Over all I really enjoyed “The Voices of Heaven.” The writing style probably isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy novels learning about other cultures this would be a great choice. I received this book through Goodreads First Reads. This in no way influenced my review. I was not required to, nor compensated for, writing a review.