Author: Maija Rhee Devine

ISBN: 978-1-62412-003-9



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.

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