Maija Rhee Devine, visited Fort Collins High School to read from her debut novel, Voices of Heaven. The novel was first written as a memoir about her experiences as a young girl during the Korean War. As the North Korean and Chinese armies invaded, Devine’s family fled along with thousands of others through snow and freezing temperatures, carrying their possessions in bags on their heads. Some men, she said, balanced mattresses on their heads in hopes that the extra padding would protect them from flying bullets. Students in Mitch Schneider’s language arts classes listened with rapt attention as Devine described how her mother would cover her eyes when they came upon bombing victims, or as people beside them were struck by sniper bullets. They boarded a boxcar without windows or seats where desperate men clung to the outside of the cars, until they froze and fell to their deaths.
Devine explained the Confucian culture that made boys necessary to families, not only for the security of elderly parents, but to perform the ceremonial feasts that ensured the well-being of three generations of ancestors in the afterlife. A man and wife who were unable to produce a male heir would commonly secure a mistress, either maintaining a second household, or bringing her into the home. This was the case in her family, when fifteen harmonious years of marriage failed to produce a male heir. Her novel opens with her family preparing for the arrival of the new mistress amid rumors of war.
Devine said the process to transform her memoir into a novel had taken ten years, but ultimately had freed her to explore voices of other characters within the story. She read about the arrival of the new mistress from her own perspective as a little girl, as well as her mother’s, father’s, and the mistress herself. Devine challenged Schneider’s students to think back to an emotional event in their own lives and write about it in the voice of another character.
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