In the Company of Angels
Germans were bombing Belgium in 1940, and the small border town of Tournai was no exception. This novel takes the reader through the sordid and the supernatural, tracing the compelling events that shaped and sometimes enhanced the lives of the survivors. Marie Claire, a young Jewish child, lives alone with her grandmother, Paulette, after the brutal death of her parents. Marie Claire is given the “legacy” of flowers. Paulette teaches her how to grow and graft, and together they create a silken black iris that will make their garden truly unique. A German invasion interrupts their tiny floral cosmos. After a riot of violence, Marie Claire, suddenly alone, seeks safety in her home’s root cellar. She is rescued days later by two nuns, Mother Xavier and the postulant Anne, whose religious habits remind her of chocolate: cocoa brown gowns with “white chocolate horns” as their headdress. Belgium being the best place in the world for chocolate, Tournai is a city infused with the scent of chocolate, an indulgence in life second only to devotion to God. It was said that angels visit the earth because “chocolate is one thing they cannot get in heaven.”
Mother Xavier’s mission is to seek orphans of the war because she believes a child saved becomes an angel of God. Events that follow confirm that Marie Claire has exceptional gifts. The lives of all the characters are ironically intertwined. We learn their history from flashbacks of memory, yet the novel flows smoothly and the reader follows eagerly.
Kelby’s novel is a stirring story about war, and not a little horror, but also about hope and love, as well as chocolate and roses. This author has written a lyrical, abrupt and compelling novel of life, and a little beyond, in World War II Belgium.