Monday, October 21, 2013

The Voices of Heaven (Maija Rhee Devine)

Unfair, absurd, overwhelming, and devastating, the war is about to break out. But for the personal tragedies we're witnessing here, we can only blame unfair, absurd, overwhelming, and devastating traditions.

Eum-chun's family should be the portrait of happiness, and the loving couple she forms with Gui-yong, her complicity with her mother in law, or her pure joy of having a girl like Mi-na, should set positive examples for the rest of a Korean society gangrened by archaic habits and customs... yet gangrene has already set its teeth in this model family.

If Mi-na happens to be an adopted child, she ignores that fact. What she does know - and what the whole neighborhood makes sure she knows - is that she's not a boy, and that her father is supposed to have one. Of course, the monstrous thing is not this absence, but the kind of "solutions" this society comes up with: an unofficial "little mommy" will move in to bear Gui-yong's male heir...





After meeting the author, I knew that reading "The Voices of Heaven" would be an emotional moment, and not in the 'fabricated drama' sense. The immersion is complete; impossible to put the book down as the personal tragedies unfold and the war looms; countless Korean expressions make me slow down to taste them and fully appreciate their freshness or bitterness, but that projects me even better in time; I'm not only feeling through the characters' senses, but also hearing their uncensored thoughts say the unsayable, expose the daily abomination of a choking society, beg for love, laugh at their own brazenness...

Don't get me wrong: it may sound like walking hip-high through pretty heavy and thick stuff, but by the grace of a poet, you're in for an uplifting experience.

Maija Rhee Devine grew up in Seoul during the Korean War, and writing such a delicate and strong, personal and universal first novel that stretches all the way to modern day Korea must have been really draining. Her next project promises to be another emotional Everest - I have no idea how long it will take her to see her "Journals of Comfort Women" through to the end, but I can't wait to read them.




"The Voices of Heaven"
Maija RHEE DEVINE
Seoul Selection USA 2013, 316 p

NB: Maija will be presenting her book this Sunday, October 27, at Barry Welsh's 10 Magazine Book Club in Myeong-dong (details on the Facebook event page: facebook.com/events/151128225080808). And while you're at it, join Barry's new radio program on TBS eFM (on Saturdays and Sundays), "The Bookend": facebook.com/thebookendefm.




Seoul Village 2013
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