14 February 2014

The Voices From Heaven by Maija Rhee Devine

  • Publisher: Seoul Selection (May 15, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1624120039
  • Paperback: 316 pages


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.

The author and her sister.

Here are my thoughts:

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!

And now for an  introduction to Maija Rhee Devine and author's interview:

From Amazon:

Maija Rhee Devine, a Korean-born writer and survivor of the Korean War and the wife of Michael J. Devine, Director of The Truman Library, wrote her novel, The Voices of Heaven, from her experience of growing up in Korea and living through the Korean War. 

A review:
"...a realistic sketch of a Korea that few Westerners have seen...A complex, uniquely Korean love story that shouldn't be missed." -- Kirkus Reviews
Her works have appeared in journals including The Kenyon Review. Honors include finalist in William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition and nominations for the Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award.
Other published work:
Long Walks on Short Days,poems about China, Korea, and U.S. (Finishing Line Press, 2013) (on Amazon)
Work in progress:
A book of poems and a novel about Korean women who were forced to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Her readings/presentations place the traditional values depicted in her novel in the context of high-tech Korea of today. When personal author visits are not possible, she Skypes with book clubs.

Visit her website (HERE)

Maija, thank you for this interview! 

- What was your ultimate goal in writing the story? Was it sharing a little (or a lot) of yourself, bringing to light a world few Europeans/Americans know to date such as past/present customs of your native country?

I didn't have one when I started out writing the memoir version (written between 1992-1997 or so) and even while rewriting it as fiction.  What poured into my heart as I wrote spilled onto pages.  
In hindsight, I realize I wanted to write about common people of Korea, not special class or type.  I believed it was an important story because it was a story common to a majority of Koreans, N. and S. Koreans (at least until the division in 1953).  
I wanted to show how common people with high a illiterary level struggled to overcome heart breaks and pain with dignity.  Dignity and love.  That's what I wanted to let the world see about Koreans.  Also, Koreans' uniqueness in their language, food, music, sensibilities, art, and passions.

What would you like for readers to take away from your novel/novels?

Understand Koreans deeply and accurately and as distinctly unique as possible from their neighbors.

What is your most cherished childhood memory?

Dancing to Korean tunes and having my parents and grandmother clapping and laughing and looking up at me as though I was a sun flower. 

- Where do you do your best writing? Do you like to have certain surroundings?

No particular surrounding necessary.  I write wherever and whenever.  On the airplane, at airports, coffee shops . . . . day or night.  But at my own desk, looking out at the lake with no one around  to distract me is my favorite time.

Finally if you had to share one dream with your readers, what would it be?

I dream of one day every living being having enough healthy food to sustain his/her body and being born with the genetic makeup and into surroundings that lead to healthful living both as individuals and as members of the world  that is gender-free.

Thank you Maija for sharing your thoughts with readers (and readers, I hope to hear your thoughts as well!)

Note: Maija Rhee Devine is presently in Seoul, KOREA for her 22 February 2014 presentation of
The Voices From Heaven and what the novel tells about today's Korea. 

On 20th February 2014  she will present 'A Birthday Event For Unlived Lives' (to be repeated also in other cities throughout the U.S. later this year).

Please join me tomorrow to find out more about this special event!

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. 


  1. Wonderfully written and informative post ~ very creative ~ love to read this book sounds fascinating ~ thanks, xxx

    carol and artmusedog

  2. Thank you Carol and Artmuse Dog! Maija and her mission must have inspired me!

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book and a beautiful story. Happy Valentines day my friend! Thanks for making my day special! Sweet hugs, Diane xox

  4. Pearl Buck was a staple for me as well - Korean literature and history is an area I know nothing about. This must be a good book which would give one an insight into the culture of families as well.

    1. As to me Mystica as mentioned yet this is completely different, being written by an insider, not a mere observer. Her writing reflects every bit of the culture and as such was a new experience for me.
      The love story was a lesson in itself. Faced with all of this, would we find the grace to live and survive?
      I hope you have an opportunity to read it.

  5. Thanks for the great read, Noelle! I read 'The Voice of Heaven' based off of your recommendation and ended up loving it! It has the same genuine feel as many of my other favorites and gave information about another culture that isn't well known (reminded me of the culture shock I got from reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha' the first time). I can imagine this being curriculum in college or high school in the future. The style is so emotive and memorable that it really gets you wrapped up in it all! Not a novel I will be forgetting anytime soon!

    1. I appreciate your comment Emma and I agree with you: this novel might just be a great addition to any curriculum! It reflects the essence of a culture we know so little about!


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