Book Quote:

“How much of a survivor, in fact, survives? How much must remain of a survivor for him also to be called a man? Some of us who are still present and accounted for perhaps are desaparecido nonetheless, invisible pieces missing from the whole.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (JUN 21, 2010)

In The Company of Angels is an important book, elegantly written, that shattered my heart into little pieces and then offered me the power of redemption. It is one of those rare books that is transformative.

At its center is Bernardo Greene, a Chilean teacher who undergoes physical and psychological torture by Pinochet’s thugs, and is now at the Copenhagen Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims. He connects with another damaged individual, Michela, who has also battled evil in the form of her abusive ex-husband Mads who “beat her maybe a dozen times, twenty times, perhaps twice a year for sixteen years.”

Bernardo (“Nardo”) is a poet at heart, and taught his students the poetry of Domingo Gomez Rojas back in Chile before he was picked up. He reflects: “Their objective was to break his spirit, only because he had been a man the people of his community respected, a teacher. They looked up to him, trusted him, a man not without dignity or the courage to examine his thoughts, his experiences, and to tell of what he believed to be so. Not a hero, but a man nonetheless, still a man.” Nardo was tortured in every possible way, destroying his body and filling his soul with shame.

While in prison, at his most despairing, he experiences “a moment’s escape into sunlight from a dark, filthy cell in the company of angels who promise him that one day he would be free.” The promised freedom refers to the shackles of his mind, not just his body. Later he muses: “The poets were captured, but not their songs. For a song, once it is let loose in the air, can only be captured by one person at a time and cannot be stopped…If only one person hears it and learns it, others will, too, and others again. And they will teach the songs to others.”

Michela, for Nardi, is a living angel; someone who will teach him that there can still be good in the world. Michala has her own demons: she visits a bleak nursing home where her adulterous father is wasting from cancer and her mother is unsuccessfully fighting dementia, and her memories drift to the suicide of her 17-year-old daughter. Kennedy writes: “We are alone in the envelope of our bodies — but there are things that diminish our soltitude, that make it possible to speak across the chasm between us, to reach across and touch it, if only for an instant…”

Thomas Kennedy could have turned this entire book into a despondent and dark tale, but instead, he envelopes it into a sort of fable-like quality. The theme is no less than the survival of the human spirit, and the defeat of evil by an indefatigable wish to love. This is one of the novels within Kennedy’s В The Copenhagen Quartet;В each is written in a different style and the series can be read in any order. The quartet was originally published by a small press in Ireland and then translated to Danish by Kennedy himself. Finally, it is being published here in the US and the UK. I will eagerly read each as they are published. In the Company of Angels receives my highest recommendation.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 32 readers
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (March 16, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Thomas E. Kennedy
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


The Copenhagen Quartet:


  • Andre Dubus: A Study of the Short Fiction (1988)
  • The American Short Story Today (1991) (with Henrik Specht)
  • Robert Coover: A Study of the Short Fiction (1992)
  • Index to American Short Story Award Collections (1993)
  • Realism & Other Illusions: Essays on the Craft of Fiction (2002)
  • The Literary Traveler (2005) (with Walter Cummins)
  • Riding the Dog: A Look Back at America (2008)

June 21, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: ,  В· Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Literary, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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