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The Voices of Heaven Paperback – May 15, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


''In Devine's debut novel, war and traditional Confucianism tear apart an idyllic Korean family.

Eum-chun and her husband, Gui-yong, have been married for 15 years and are deeply in love. Although they adore their adopted daughter, Mi-na, they fail to produce a son--a serious problem in their deeply traditional society. Gui-yong eventually gives in to his mother's wishes and marries a second woman, Soo-yang, hoping she will deliver a boy to carry on the family name. Although Eum-chun tries to bear the situation bravely, she's devastated, and cracks soon begin to form in the seemingly perfect family. The novel, set against the backdrop of the Korean War, follows four main characters as they navigate their new family and the chaos that ravages the land. Devine's prose richly describes everyday life in 1950s Korea, and the war effectively parallels the battle raging in the family home--an insurmountable rift divides the family, just as it does their country. It's a realistic sketch of a Korea that few Westerners have seen, depicting a patriarchal society that limits women's choices, and each character faces a unique battle stemming from that unfortunate situation. Each of their stories is rich with emotion, and their problems give the novel depth and complexity. Most compelling are the struggles of Eum-chun, Mi-na and Soo-yang as they fight to create their own identities; although they all fight similar battles, they cannot fight them together, as their society has driven wedges between them. Their resulting stories are often melancholy and achingly beautiful.

A complex, uniquely Korean love story that shouldn't be missed.'' --Kirkus Reviews

''Maija Devine writes with a grace and illuminating power that is very rare. She manages to capture the fault line between cultures and languages desperately trying to connect and make sense of each other while remaining faithful to themselves. Her skill and promise are enormous; the power of her narrative art rewards any reader.'' --David H. Lynn, editor of The Kenyon Review

''Maija Devine's inspiring storytelling in ''The Voices of Heaven'' gives voice to the countless voiceless ones who have gotten swept along in the dire necessities of nation-building and war in South and North Korea over the past half-century. This is a beautiful book about wars waged at the most intimate levels imaginable for basic rights of freedom and self-determination. Each page is like a carefully carved open doorway into this still secret corner of the world and the lives of the women and men who somehow endured the very personal tragedies captured here.'' --Michael Pritchett, associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Seoul Selection (May 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1624120032
  • ISBN-13: 978-1624120039
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maija Rhee Devine, a Korean-born writer and survivor of the Korean War, published her autobiographical novel/love story, The Voices of Heaven (Seoul Selection USA, Irvine, CA 2013). The novel portrays a couple in love with each other but they invite a mistress into their house to bear them the required son. Their struggles parallel the battles of the Korean War. The link to her TEDx talk of 2/22/14 on The Voices of Heaven and what it reveals about current S. Korean society is:

"...a realistic sketch of a Korea that few Westerners have seen...A complex, uniquely Korean love story that shouldn't be missed." -- Kirkus Reviews

"a masterpiece of historic fiction" -- Reviewers, The 2014 Chautauqua Institution Book Award

The Voices of Heaven won the following book awards:
1) Winner: 2013 ForeWord Reviews Book of The Year Award: Silver Award: Multicultural; Bronze: Military & War
2) Bronze Medal, 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award, Best Adult Fiction E-Book Category:
3) Honorable Mention, 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for Short Prose & Independent Books, Category Prizes, E-book Fiction: (Full posting on The US
Review of Books website)
4) Longlisted for the 2014 Chautauqua Institution Book Award ( (29 out of 155 submissions)

Also by Maija Rhee Devine:
Long Walks on Short Days,poems about China, Korea, and U.S. (Finishing Line Press, 2013) (on Amazon)

Works in progress: A book of poems and a novel about Korean women who provided 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.

Her short stories and poems 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.

Contact:; POBox 7015, Lee's Summit, MO 64064;

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Brown on May 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
What a privilege and a joy to conclude my life as an expat in Korea by reading "The Voices of Heaven," by Maija Rhee Devine. I consider this beautiful narrative of one family's life before, during and after the Korean War a "bookend" to my Korean experience. The summer before I moved to Korea in 2007, I read "Still Life With Rice," by Helie Lee, which was required summer reading for my students and a great introduction to Korean culture and history. Now that I know about and have visited places like Namdaemun, Insadong and Changdeokgung Palace, the book feels familiar and it's nice to get a Korean woman writer's perspective. The story is told from the perspectives of a Korean wife, her husband, her daughter and the second wife that is brought into the household because the first wife, Eum-Chun, is unable to bear a son. The passionate love between the first husband and wife is able to transcend the tragedy and humiliation of the second wife's arrival and assimilation into the household, even through the war. What's even more incredible in this story that is loosely based on Devine's own childhood, is that the second wife's story is relatable and worthy of sympathy and compassion as well, a jilted bride, who has no other options. After teaching mostly Korean students, raised for the most part with Confucian values, for the past six years, I have a new understanding, not appreciation, but understanding of the power and impact of these values, particularly on girls. You don't have to live in Korea or be a woman to appreciate this book. It was a particular joy to meet the author, who is every bit as self-effacing as the daughter character in her book, but with age, wisdom and a now multicultural background (she has lived in the US for decades). Read it to appreciate this era of Korea and perhaps gain a new understanding of the economic success of post-war Korea and of the beautiful Korean people I have come to know as my family away from home.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Warren on January 6, 2014
Format: Paperback
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.
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