Minneapolis author N.M. Kelby's In the Company of Angels comes in a deceptively slim package. Packed into its one hundred seventy-six pages is a powerful story of unspeakable sorrow and hope. Lush in its stylized simplicity, the narrative chronicles the World War II rescue of a young Jewish girl who may or may not be an angel. Kelby's prose has the hypnotic rhythm of the dream state and the immediacy of well-worked short fiction. It is the perfect cadence for this brief, ethereal novel.
Marie Claire lives in a small Jewish community just on the French side of the Belgian border. Her life is a quiet one since her parents' disappearance, spent with her grandmother cultivating flowers. Then the sudden inexplicable violence of a World War II pogrom leaves her the only living person in a wretched zone of bodies and rubble. She bolts to her grandmother's root cellar to hide from the devastation.
Two Belgian nuns, all that is left of the original thirty women in the order of the Sisters of His Divine and Most Sacred Blood of Tournai, discover the tiny survivor on a covert rescue mission. As they make their way back to their convent on the river, the Commander of the enemy forces in Tornai espies the nuns and shoots the younger nun, Anne. The Mother Superior Xavier manages to knock the young Commander into the river, and the nuns and Marie Claire are safe for the moment. Mother Xavier, who suspects that Marie Claire is somehow more than just a saved child, knows that it is only a matter of time before the soldiers discover their resistance and sets about making her peace with her estranged parents and her God. She and Sister Anne thus become fleeting witnesses to small miracles from an unassuming source.
Rich with the scent of flowers and chocolate, painfully full of unexpressed love, simple grief and quiet wonder, In the Company of Angels is an exquisite book. Author Kelby's epigraph states in part "To my daughter Hannah, who, through her death, set forth miracles, redeemed faith, and started me on this journey." That the sorrow at the loss of a child gave birth to such a delicately forceful work imbues the novel with an even deeper emotional impact.