Cover image for In the company of angels
In the company of angels
Kelby, N. M. (Nicole M.)
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2001]

Physical Description:
164 pages ; 22 cm
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A compelling novel of dark miracles and angelic visitation, set in a Nazi-occupied Belgian town that is scented by chocolate and haunted by war.

It is World War II, a small village in France near the border of Belgium. Marie Claire is a young French Jew, cared for by her grandmother, who cultivates flowers. A shattering of glass, and Marie Claires village is in rubble. Her grandmother is dead, everyone is dead. She flees to the root cellar of her grandmothers house and waits . . .

She is saved by two Belgian nuns who take Marie Claire away to their convent in Tournai, Belgium, where they have been hiding Jews for transport to Switzerland. It is then that the miracles begin. Is Marie Claire causing them The answer to that question remains mysterious until the last pages of this entirely original debut. In a town scented with chocolate, haunted by memories of the past and the desperation of the present, the miraculous is sometimes hard to recognize. A suspenseful novel of enormous power and sensitivity, In the Company of Angels introduces a distinctly imaginative new voice in fiction.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in France during World War II, Kelby's debut novel is a luminous, harrowing tale of wartime horrors and miracles. When seven-year-old Marie Claire's village in France is bombed by the Germans, she survives by burying herself in the root cellar of her grandmother's house. Days later, Anne and Mother Xavier, two Belgian nuns working for the Resistance, rescue her and take her to their convent, near a town in which odd visions and minor miracles are everyday occurrences. Upon her arrival, even stranger things begin to happen: the girl gives off an odor of roses; light seems to emanate from her body; bruises emerge on her flesh. Intertwined with Marie Claire's story is the tale of a Nazi commander's doomed romance with Anne, and Mother Xavier's struggle to come to terms with the fact that her parents have been performing scientific experiments for the Germans. Striking, clear images give the novel a surreal cast: a room filled with doves; ants crawling over the hands of Anne's father, a chocolate maker, as he sits in the ruins of his bombed shop; or Marie Claire's feverish dream in which a mask maker who was her friend in life conducts a macabre puppet show beneath the destroyed village. Such flashes of sensual detail are made even more poignant when contrasted with the atrocities of the war, and Kelby's spare, elliptical prose effectively brings these moments to light, infusing the emotionally and spiritually loaded subject matter with an uncommon intimacy. Saints and Nazis may make strange bedfellows, but Kelby rises to the challenge with considerable command in a haunting debut that erodes the distinctions between waking and dreaming, faith and reason, life and death. Agent, Jo Fagan. (Apr. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One                Before the Germans bombed Belgium in 1940, Tournai was a city that creaked under the weight of its own rich history. Conquered by the French, it was thought more beautiful than Paris. Conquered by the English, it was the favored city of King Henry the Eighth.     It was also a city of God.     One hundred bell towers, four hundred bells. So many churches, their spires teetering at odd angles, they eclipsed the narrow streets, streets filled with knots of nuns and priests moving about like so many bees.     God was Tournai's main industry. The banks, the universities, the cafes, the souvenir shops which sold the nearly authentic relics: they all thrived on God. Survived by creating a city devoted to devotion.     In Tournai, God, apparently, was as common as air.     The baker said he saw Him in a cherry tart. The milliner, in the eye of a peacock feather. The trash man said he saw Him tumbling down the alleyways in the white grease of the frietzaks , the abandoned paper cones, their twice-fried potatoes eaten long ago. These sightings of God were well documented in newspapers and radio broadcasts. They were proudly spoken of in the streets.     "Did you know that the barber saw the face of the Virgin on the floor of his shop yesterday?"     "No, but I heard the butcher found a small cross within the belly of a lamb."     Everywhere, everyone saw God. How could they not? In Tournai, seeing God was a matter of civic pride.     Then bombs came. Then soldiers. Then silence.     Now recruitment posters cover the church doors. Ersatz kommando der waffen! The Germans are asking for help. Support us! they say, and show the enemy in his "true light"--a red devil, the Star of David around his neck. The devil laughs at the cross, crushes Belgium with his pitchfork.     Some of the priests, their churches in rubble, ask their congregations to consider the Germans' position. Did not the Jews betray our Savior? they ask.     Ersatz kommando der waffen!     Since the occupation began, it is said that God has not been seen in Tournai. It is believed that He quietly slipped away. Heartbroken, He eased himself out of the situation, unsure if He would ever return. Excerpted from In the Company of Angels by N. M. KELBY. Copyright © 2001 by N. M. Kelby. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.