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In the Company of Angels Paperback – 6 Jun 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (6 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408809842
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408809846
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 457,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Thomas E. Kennedy is an

astonishment, and In the Company of

Angels is as elegant as it is beautiful,

as important as it is profound. A marvel

of a read'

(Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

'The combination of subtle, beautiful prose and searingly painful realities make In the Company of Angels a story that lingers in the intellect as pervasively as in the heart. An astonishing, wise novel of our times' (Liz Jensen, author of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax)

'Tragic, wise, comic, profound ... An epic of the human heart struggling for meaning and redemption' (Literary Review)

'A moving love story woven from a delicate web of emotions ... remarkable' (Time Out)

Book Description

A luminous love story and an internationally acclaimed masterpiece, published in the UK for the first time

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 21 Mar. 2010
Format: Hardcover
All-encompassing in its themes and scope and sensitive to the details which make it come alive, In the Company of Angels is an exhilarating novel, however traumatic its subject. Author Thomas E. Kennedy takes a close look at Chile during the Pinochet government (1973 - 1990), focusing on Bernardo (Nardo) Greene, an "ordinary" Chilean teacher school teacher who was imprisoned and tortured for two years for straying from the assigned curriculum. Kennedy also, however, examines the similarities between government-sanctioned (and encouraged) torture and other forms of torture, including spousal abuse, the repression of women, and the inaction of people who ignore crimes.

Ostensibly a love story between Bernardo (Nardo) Greene, a widower whose wife and son were "desaparecido" during his incarceration and torture, and Michela Ibsen, a forty-year-old Danish woman, a victim of spousal abuse, the novel examines many themes related to love and death, freedom and confinement, and the worldly and the spiritual. Greene is getting treatment in Copenhagen at a center devoted to the rehabilitation of torture victims, and he wonders if he will ever be able to trust a human again. His psychiatrist, Thorkild Kristensen, dedicated to Nardo's recovery, has his own problems, unable to "leave the job at work."

Though the reader becomes totally consumed with the stories of these vibrant characters, Kennedy's novel is not "just" a love story. Nardo has survived his torture because at the moment that he might have given up, he is visited by angels who take him out of his imprisonment long enough to remind him of a happier life and tell him that he will one day be free.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Burgmicester on 13 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
If you are like me in your reading habits, you are always looking for that one book that will make you think. Instead of the mass market, same old story, we are looking for a different plotline from a real artist that will touch us with human frailties laid bare before us. This is that story.

Thomas Kennedy wrote this book as part of the Copenhagen Quartet in 1995. He has written twenty books and they are now starting to find their way to the U.S. In this book, Kennedy introduces us to Nardo, a well educated common man (former teacher) that has had a run in with the government in his home country and has moved to Denmark to escape those events. A caring and obsessive Psychiatrist puts his family and wife aside to help Nardo to overcome these haunting images and barbaric methods of his torturous treatment in the hands of his previous government. Moving into the storyline is the beautiful, often misunderstood, guilt laden Michela, whose poor choice of men seems an enigma. Additionally, Michela also has to deal with a dying father (cancer) and a mother with dementia as well as the past that this little family unit has had to endure.

The story is not fun or action packed, but each of us can find pieces of it that are real life drama in our own lives or in lives of people we've known. It draws out the many issues we, ourselves have had to endure in our own lives. It helps us to see that others are fighting this fight and that life is always a struggle. But struggle we must. We must continue to hang on - even with one hand, even if balanced on a trapeze while holding on as long as we need to extricate ourselves from the burdens of this world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By prisrob TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 9 April 2013
Format: Paperback
This was a novel, at once quite disturbing and then again quite enlightening. It takes place inCopenhagen, after the survivor, Nardo had been tortured by Pinochet for teaching poetry. His wife and son are among the missing, and he has come to Copenhagen for rehabilitation. It seems, the author, Thomas Kennedy has first hand knowledge of torture victims, he has worked with them at one of Copenhagen's centers.

This is also the story of Michela, a woman who was abused by her husband. She is mourning her child who committed suicide. Nardo's torture was so terrible, so despicable, he betrays no emotion. He has a great deal of difficulty discussing his torture. When he does and the floodgates open, this is a very difficult part of this book. Nardo speaks in the third person when discussing his torture, but he does talk about angels who gave him hope. Michelangelo meets Nardo when she visits her parents. His tale of torture and the angels is so extraordinary that she falls for Nardo.

The book is difficult at times to bear. Some of the writing moves so quickly from one subject to the other that I would at times lose interest. It was not until the unbearable scenes expressed of Nardo's torture that I felt compelled to finish.

Violence, torture, spousal abuse, and the healing power of love are all part and particle. A novel that does not leave one easily.

Recommended. prisrob 04-09-13
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By vizog on 11 May 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel deals with the hurt we do to each other in the search for power, control and even love. I was touched by the central characters whose qualities were only revealed slowly through the book and whose lives and experiences were gently revealed to hint at explanations of why they were as they were. Very moving.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 47 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Reaching across the chasm 31 Jan. 2010
By TSSmith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This eloquent novel takes on a subject matter that some readers may not have previously reflected on: the examination of the legacy of tortures and other forms of brutalities, psychic and physical, and the struggles that survivors of such cruelties go through in their attempt to restore pieces of their old selves, unbroken before the tragic events that befell them.

The novel's main protagonists are Bernardo Greene and Michela Ibsen.

Bernardo was a teacher in his native Chile before fleeing to Copenhagen after gaining freedom from his captors and torturers. A victim of trumped up charges, he had lost his family, his trust for most human beings, and his sense of self-worth.

Michela is a beautiful 40-ish Danish woman who has also experienced pain: the loss of an only child, and a failed marriage to a man who had physically abused her. Now caring for her hospital-bound parents who are in their sunset years, and dating a much younger man, she finds herself curiously drawn to Bernardo when they first met in a cafe, and Bernardo, clearly smitten with her, had summoned the courage to ask her to dance with him.

That Bernardo was initially hesitant, even fearful, to approach Michela is understandable. He is still fighting demons from his past, and although he has been getting help from Dr. Kristensen, he has not progressed enough in the healing process to risk hurting himself even more, or Michela, who may not find him "man enough" for her.

Michela is similarly conflicted. Does she deserve the love of another man after her failed first marriage? Why is she having these kinds of doubts when she knows she has a lot to offer?

Bernardo's and Michela's fears and doubts are manifestations of some of the impact of the brutalities they have been subjected to. What would come of their budding feelings for each other? Would they try to reach for the next level? For them to do so, they must be able to overcome their fears and doubts; to reach across the chasm that separates not just them from each other, but their current wounded selves from the person they would like to be. Would they succeed? Would they run into unexpected obstacles?

Despite the gravity of the subject matter, readers are never in danger of getting left in the lurch with heavy-heartedness, for the story of Bernardo and Michela is told with measured cadence and just the right mix of subplots that invite loathing for the weaklings inflicting cruelties on them and admiration for their individual strengths and courage. Very moving story!
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Too much anguish.....too little relief 13 Mar. 2010
By Tracy Marks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really expected to like this novel because of its favorable reviews and its focus upon characters bonding as they facilitate their own healing from unfathomable pain. Indeed, it is well-written and a few of the cathartic scenes are moving. But for me, there is too much anguish, too many suffering and traumatized characters, too many scenes of remembered torture and twisted inhumanity.

There is no laughter or moments of lightness. Intimacy through sex and shared pain are presented as the means to closeness. When I finished reading, I felt as if I had journeyed into the Inferno and only navigated from its center to the doors of Purgatory. I wanted to listen to soul-stirring music or have a warm, healthy dialogue with a friend.

In the Company of Angels is primarily about two characters. Nardo, a victim of long-term torture in Chile, now living in Copenhagen, wonders, "How much of a survivor, in fact, survives?" Nardo survived torture in part due to an experience he had of angels visiting him. But the angel theme is only cursorily mentioned, and remains undeveloped.

Michela, a Danish victim of relationship abuse, whose daughter committed suicide, struggles with "Why do men hit me?" Nardo and Michela are drawn to each other and find some redemption in the sharing of pain.

Unfortunately, however, the novel takes multiple perspectives, also providing the viewpoints of Dr. Kristensen who is attempting to help Nardo, Michela's jealous young lover Voss, and her elderly father who lives in the same nursing home as her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. These characters are only incompletely presented, and in my opinion are uninteresting, distracting and unnecessary.

The author plummets into the depths of human suffering and rage, which he expresses realistically, as if he himself as lived through his characters' pain. Such an accomplishment is not easy, and is, in its own way, a welcome change from the glut of superficial, frothy novels that fill bookstands. But the stor of so many anguished people is difficult to read, and is not fully redeemed by the grace of angels, an evolving friendship/romance, or a therapeutic relationship. Indeed, as a psychotherapist myself, I remain somewhat skeptical that deep trauma can be healed by a few cathartic explosions, even within the context of a trusting relationship - although such release is a start.

Thomas E. Kennedy writes fairly well, but not beautifully, and portrays his characters Nardo and Michela convincingly. But I recommend In the Company of Angels only to readers who wish to experience the depths of suffering and only the beginnings of letting it go and affirming life, with or without angels.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Last Tango in Purgatory 12 April 2010
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At the exact half-way point in this perfectly-calculated but exquisite novel two people dance a tango outside a bar in a Copenhagen square. "Four steps across and a close, his thigh between hers as their eyes met and her lips parted to draw breath. He trapped her arm, but loosely, behind her as they did another volta, looking away from each other in one direction, in the other, and the woman in black clapped her hands once, crying out 'Bravo, compadre!' [...] 'One more,' she said softly; 'such a passionate dance!' 'No,' he said. 'It is the dance of sorrow. The dance of those who are far away and alone.'"

The man, Bernardo Greene, a former teacher, is indeed far away and alone, having fled his native Chile after his family has disappeared and he himself tortured for daring to teach the work of poets who write the truth. Traumatized by literally unspeakable violence, he has come for healing to Copenhagen's famous Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, where his doctor tries to break through the wall between him and his emotions. The woman, Michela Ibsen, divorced from an abusive husband, now finds herself once more in a potentially violent relationship, and does not know how to break free. We already know a great deal about Nardo and Michela, and there will be many obstacles to overcome before they can truly help one another. But this unlikely encounter, in a dance from the opposite side of the globe that balances intimacy and solitude, violence and passion, marks a perfect turning-point. Even the setting, in a city square dedicated to the Danish resistance of WW2, is meaningful.

The extremes in this novel are tempered by touches of almost everything in between. Violence, for example, is not confined to those tortures in a Chilean jail (of which we do not hear much but just enough). It is reflected in the strain that threatens to break the doctor's marriage apart when he brings his work home. It is seen in that kind of love-making that uses the bodies of others for what can be taken from them rather than given back. It is seen in the cruel silence of couples that punish each other not by acts committed but by kindnesses withheld. It is seen in the racism of strangers that regard anybody with darker hair or skin as alien, lesser beings.

Love too takes many forms. Most striking, Nardo's vision of two angels in the depths of his ordeal, promising him that he would experience love yet again. Love comes -- the ending of the book slips gently into a transformation so subtle that you hardly notice it until it is a reality -- but it does not come easily. Meanwhile, there are other kinds of love to touch first. The love of the surrounding world: the lakes and paths of the city, people going about their daily lives, the change of the seasons. The caring of friends. The love of husband and wife, striving to find a path through pain. The love of a daughter for a father even when mired in selfishness and rotted away by cancer. The love that, even in bed, finds other forms of expression when the obvious ones fail.

Angels bring messages of hope, but they can also terrify. The greatest miracles in this brilliant and transformative novel occur when love finds a way to harness anger and confront it, facing evil head on, and finding at least some promise of redemption.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Danish Voodoo: burn the midsummer night witch 14 Jan. 2013
By H. Schneider - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Exiled Chilean torture victim sees Danish shrink for trauma treatment. It is difficult to get anything done, the patient shuts himself up. The fear is not over, nor his paranoia. They, the torturers, are also here, in Copenhagen! He has seen them. Nightly he waits for the steps outside and the rap on the door. He feels unmanned by his experience, and harbors a powerless rage. He hasn't learnt Danish enough to express himself properly. Danish society is not entirely welcoming. It has its own violence.

The case rattles the shrink and his family life. Doubts creep in. What good is this therapy? Does it achieve anything? The patient despises the shrink, his Northern freedom and liberality, his atheism.

Parallel story: A Danish woman has lost her teenage daughter to suicide, then her abusive husband has left her. Her boyfriend hits her. She wonders why men hit her. Her mother is in a home with Alzheimer's, while her father is in the same home with terminal cancer. Despite all that, she is an attractive, fun loving person who even thinks she might have another child.

Sounds like a handful, doesn't it. Despite the whole load of bad stuff, the book doesn't seem depressed, just serious, appropriately so. The author doesn't hit a wrong tone, but handles the difficult troubles well.

Then the two story threads stop being parallel, they intersect. The two victims meet. Can that be good for either of them? We wouldn't expect it to be a good idea. But what do we know. The power of Tango. However, no kitschy miracles here. Just angels. This could easily have descended into sentimentality, but it doesn't.

American exile Kennedy, an expatriate in Denmark since many years, wrote this convincing and engaging novel as first of a four volume project, the Copenhagen Quartet. One of the coming volumes is said to be structured like Coltrane's Love Supreme. Can't wait for that. Coltrane and Miles Davis ('So what?') are also much present in this one. I always fall for texts with these guys.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"In the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs" 10 April 2010
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a resounding, deeply moving story of pain, sorrow, love, and redemption. Despite the characters' dark and soul-shattering journeys, light reflects on every page, both literally and aesthetically. Kennedy writes with an exquisite and tender timbre, lyrical and poetical, from core to root to stem to stalk to bloom. His prose is fueled with gravitas and grace, as he probes into the seeds of the subconscious with a Jungian finesse.

Nardo Greene is a Chilean teacher who is in Copenhagen receiving treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). He was tortured during Pinochet's regime for educating his pupils about "a poet who sang dangerous songs," a poet who was captured and died in a dungeon. Nardo's wife and child are joined with the *desaparecido*, the disappeared.

"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, for there are not ever enough policeman, will never be enough policemen or enough soldiers to stop a song. Even all the money of the rich cannot stop a song from reaching the ears of those who will hear it. If only one person hears it and learns it, others will, too, and others again. And they will teach the song to others."

This beautiful passage points to the essence of the story, connecting with others to heal wounds, and about the power of human souls to surmount horrifying ordeals and ultimately prevail. Throughout the novel, Kennedy weaves in beautiful poetry, by authors such as Pablo Neruda, one of my cherished poets, and poignant Scandinavian poetry. Moreover, this is the first time that Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" mesmerized me with its rousing expression and eloquent sound and rhythm.

When this novel opens, psychotherapist Dr. Kristensen is trying to bring Nardo back to the land of the living. Nardo is emotionally, psychically, and spiritually dead. Kristensen is an enthusiastic and diligent doctor, facile at his work. But with Nardo he has hit a wall. His ability to maintain a professional and therapeutic distance is threatened by the fact that Nardo's demons are visiting him. Moreover, he is losing his grip with his family. The chapters from the doctor's perspective are the only chapters written in first person. It is as if he is the center, from which all others radiate outward and back, even the characters that don't personally interact with him. And, yet, he remains the most enigmatic, the most difficult character to pin down. His character feels disembodied at times, as he is woven in as the literal healing force.

Michela Ibsen is a lovely woman, an ordinary woman, burdened with unresolved grief. Her much younger boyfriend is Voss, a boyishly handsome and emotionally stunted individual. He is suffocating her with his perverse needs and possessiveness.

Michela's parents are both seriously ill. They live in separate rooms in a facility for the aged and infirm. Her relationship with them is complex and crucial to the novel's themes, and they furnish subtext and context to Michela's private agony. Michela's love-hate bond with her father is deftly rendered with intense color and character. Her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, bestows an echoing impact that is ceaseless and ultimately full of wonder.

The chapters alternate seamlessly from one character to another, as the circle shrinks and all their fates ineluctably entwine. The angels, who appear with a stunning literary presence, represent the figurative healing force, the deep consciousness shared by all humanity.

There is violence, but it is measured and never gratuitous. The story unfolds with a noble and elegant symmetry, leaving the reader exalted and wanting more. It imbues you like a penetrating symphony; and, like a symphony in four movements, this is the first of Kennedy's quartet. I eagerly anticipate the US release of the remaining three books.
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