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In the Company of Angels: A Novel (Copenhagen Quartet) Hardcover – March 16, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It probably doesn't reflect glowingly on American expat Kennedy's native country that this watershed novel is the first to be published in the U.S. after a decade of acclaim abroad. Why it's taken so long is anyone's guess, as there's plenty to admire in the serpentine unwinding of troubled protagonists adrift in contemporary Copenhagen. First there's Bernardo Nardo Greene, a Chilean sifting through the torments he suffered at the hands of Pinochet's secret police with the help of his Danish therapist, Thorkild Kristensen, who acts as part-time narrator. Meanwhile, Michela Ibsen attempts to escape a history of abusive lovers, most recently, the psychopathically jealous Voss. Inquisitions into the nature of violence follow from Thorkild's private musings and from Michela's hospital-bound father, but it is in Nardo and Michela's cautious flirtation that the story's central problem—how do we exorcise patterns of abuse and arrive at what is worth loving in a world poisoned by cruelty?—is etched. Kennedy's respect for his characters and startlingly tender regard for basic humanity color what is in effect a high-concept love story resonant with, as Nardo says, The produce... of our lives. (Mar.)
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Review

In the Company of Angels is powerful and of the moment … Kennedy writes clean, evocative prose, and an occasional note of humor leavens this dark novel. He is a writer to be reckoned with, and it's about time the reckoning got underway in the country of his birth.” ―Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“[An] ensnaring and original novel…. Kennedy doesn't heap on the misery in order (or not only) to create a compelling psycho-melodrama. He is serious about wanting to get at -- dig down to -- what it is that makes people do unspeakable things…. caring about characters' fates makes a hands-down more engaging read than most of the desperately cool ego trips published these days. "In the Company of Angels" is simply an unforgettable novel. Its tongue is not tucked up safely in its cheek.” ―Kai Maristed, Los Angeles Times

“[A] wide-ranging and assured novel….The stories of torture that emerge…offer, in their horror and dignity, a quiet criticism of the characters with more prosaic problems.” ―The New Yorker

In the Company of Angels is a novel about grown-ups, people battered and dinged by life, painfully aware of their own responsibility, whose understanding of their past never stops evolving. It's the dignity of their adulthood -- the elusive prize at stake in any midlife crisis -- that makes them so admirable and, above all, so moving.” ―Laura Miller, Salon.com

“Thomas E. Kennedy is nothing if not a risk-taker…and (In the Company of Angels) is a gripping read…Kennedy's book is a brave one.” ―Emily Carter, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“It probably doesn't reflect glowingly on American expat Kennedy's native country that this watershed novel is the first to be published in the U.S. after a decade of acclaim abroad. Why it's taken so long is anyone's guess, as there's plenty to admire in the serpentine unwinding of troubled protagonists adrift in contemporary Copenhagen.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This is the first volume of the series to be published in the U.S. If its stellar quality is any indication, the entire quartet promises to be an exceptional reading experience … This novel offers much more than just a beautiful writing style. Each character's story is so undeniably interesting that the reader gains a sense of the wonder of disparate lives with unpredictable but intriguing connections.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“Kennedy writes with unusual insight and compassion, depicting the best and the worst of the human experience. His work may be new to U.S. readers, but it merits greater attention, and we should look forward to seeing the other three books in his quartet published here. A great choice for readers of literary fiction.” ―Library Journal

“Expatriate American author Kennedy finally gets the major U.S. release merited by his European reviews with this third volume of his Copenhagen Quartet … An artfully written story with a conscience.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“[This novel] lacks nothing … Kennedy is a master craftsman.” ―Books Ireland

“Tragic, wise, comic, profound … An epic of the human heart struggling for meaning and redemption.” ―Literary Review

“A glorious novel by a modern master.” ―Irish Edition

“Rich and intense… There are no literary pyrotechnics here, just good storytelling that we all have a right to demand from our authors. [It is] a performance you will seldom come across, and one that will stay with you for some time.” ―Michael Lee, The Barnstable Patriot

“Although it is a novel about loss, In the Company of Angels is also about the redemption of hope through love… (Kennedy's) many admirers will welcome this first mainstream U.S. novel publication. This is a matter for celebration and surely marks the beginning of another stage in his distinguished career.” ―Thomas McCarthy, New Letters: A Magazine of Writing & Art

“Redemptive and powerful storytelling… In the midst of a heartless world, this story has heart.” ―Dave Moyer, New York Journal of Books

“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

“With generous and elegant prose, Kennedy takes us from the darkest, most violent regions of our collective behavior to our most exalted...A deeply stirring novel, suffused with intelligence, grace, and that rarest of qualities--wisdom.” ―Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog

“A terrible, wonderful, horrible, truthful, heartbreaking, and heart-mending book. The word masterpiece should never be used lightly, but [In the Company of Angels] is exactly that, a masterpiece written by a master. How can anyone know so much about the human heart?” ―Duff Brenna, author of The Book of Mamie, The Willow Man, Too Cool, The Altar of the Body, and The Holy Book of the Beard

In the Company of Angels is both a riveting examination of the violence we've come to take for granted, and an unsentimental, morally complex love story. Thomas Kennedy tackles the darkest of subjects, but with searing precision and grace, and with such feeling for ordinary humanity, that this book is full of light. It's the sort of novel that reminds me why novels are important.” ―Rene Steinke, author of Holy Skirts

“Thomas E. Kennedy's In the Company of Angels is a beautiful love story, a testimony to the human spirit, an important message to our world of darkness that the spark of light cannot be extinguished.... The setting, the descriptions, the complex relationship between Michela and Voss, Michela's love for her parents, the professional dedication of Thorkild Kristensen... All of this, the many brilliantly interwoven plot lines, the composition of the chapters, contribute to making the book truly difficult to put down. And the writing is stunning.” ―Susan Tiberghiehn, Founder and Director, Geneva Writers Conference; Author of One Year to a Writing Life and Looking for Gold

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Product Details

  • Series: Copenhagen Quartet
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (March 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190164
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,155,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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?
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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.
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Format: Paperback 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.
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