The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti

Overview

Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell’s award-winning stories transport you to Haiti—to a lush, lyrical, flamboyant, and spirit-filled Haiti where palm trees shine wet with moonlight and the sky paints a yellow screen over your head and the ocean sparkles with thousands of golden eyes—and keep you there forever. Her singular characters mysteriously address the deeper meanings of human existence. They also dream of escape, whether from themselves, from family, from Vodou, from financial and cultural difficulties and the ...

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The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti

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Overview

Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell’s award-winning stories transport you to Haiti—to a lush, lyrical, flamboyant, and spirit-filled Haiti where palm trees shine wet with moonlight and the sky paints a yellow screen over your head and the ocean sparkles with thousands of golden eyes—and keep you there forever. Her singular characters mysteriously address the deeper meanings of human existence. They also dream of escape, whether from themselves, from family, from Vodou, from financial and cultural difficulties and the politicians that create them, or from the country itself, but Haiti will forever remain part of their souls and part of the thoughts of her readers.

 Some characters do achieve escape through the mind or through sea voyage—escape found by surrendering to spectacular fantasies and madness and love, bargaining with God, joining the boat people. Marie-Ange Saint-Jacques’s mother sacrifices everything to ensure her daughter’s survival on a perilous boat trip, Angelina waits to fly away to Nou Yòk, Vivi creates her own circus with dozens of rescued dogs, Gustave dies a martyr to his faith. Throughout, the “I” who moves in and out of these dream-filled stories embraces the heavenly mysteries found in “the room where all things lost are stored with grace.”

We begin our journey to Haiti with images of a little girl in a pink bedroom reading by candlelight a book about the life of Saint Bernadette, surrounded by the bewitching scents, sounds, and textures of a Caribbean night. Each story stands by itself, but some characters can be followed from one story to another through the transformations they undergo as a result of their life experiences. In this way, the collection can be read as one story, the story of a family trapped in a personal and cultural drama and the story of the people with whom the family interacts, themselves burdened by the need to survive within Haiti’s rigorously class-determined society and blessed by their relationship to the company of heaven in which they live and for which they are destined.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Told rather than "written," Phipps-Kettlewell's tales are portraits of Haitian life. Since characters appear in multiple stories, and narrators rarely identify themselves, Haiti itself becomes a character. The prologue, a memory of childhood nights, evokes a sweep of sensation--cicadas and frogs, fireflies that resemble miniature angels, the touch of wood softened by vermin, the smell of the dark--that brings Haiti to vibrant life. Phipps-Kettlewell, whose previous book was verse, brings a poet's sensual acuity to her stories. "Dogs" tracks the descent into madness of a mother who has little time for her children, but fills her life and home with mongrel dogs. In "The Chapel," the building itself describes what has occurred within. The excellent novella, "River Valley Rooms," is a simple tale made complex by its formal daring; a collage of love and loss, it begins as a reminiscence of a homosexual brother but expands to depict complicated relationships with parents and lovers. Though Phipps-Kettlewell's lyrical, evocative, and lush style carries these stories, it can also create inertia; more attention to narrative would have made this truly a collection to treasure. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews

Life in Haiti, before the recent earthquake but no less steeped in hardship and spiritual overcoming, is captured in interconnected stories by a gifted Haitian American. The book won the 2010 Iowa Short Fiction Award.

In sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes sharply ironic fashion, Phipps-Kettlewell writes of coping in a place where the lush surroundings are a constant reminder of how removed from paradise people are. Lives are routinely cut short by diseases that are treated too late or not at all, and casual murders that are never solved or avenged. Viewed through the author's intimate autobiographical lens, Haiti is a place where people with nothing to do become attuned to "the timelessness of time," where voodoo priests compete with corrupt politicians for influence, and where dreams of escape never die, even for those who fork over their life's savings to a returning djaspora whose boat to Miami has no chance of making it there with them. Broken into brief alternating sections, the longer stories, spanning years and generations, are compelling montages that reveal how family isredefined as orphaned children are passed to relatives, neighbors and even strangers. For one lonely old woman, a pack of dogs that sleeps nestled against her in strictly assigned positions become surrogate offspring. But as sad as the stories can get, the author's empathy for her resilient subjects, and her grasp of the human comedy in depicting the creative ways downtrodden people keep hope alive, makes the book unexpectedly entertaining.

Brilliantly evocative contemporary stories about Haiti told by a personable native.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587299216
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2010
  • Series: Iowa Short Fiction Award
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Painter, poet, and short story writer Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell was born and grew up in Haiti. She has held fellowships at the Guggenheim Foundation, the Bunting Institute, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. In 1993, she won the Grolier prize for poetry. Her collection Crossroads and Unholy Water won the 1999 Crab Orchard Poetry Prize. Her short fiction has been published in Callaloo, the Crab Orchard Review, and the New Arcadia Review as well as The Best American Short Stories 2003.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Saint Bernadette at Night 1

Down by the River 3

Life Outside My Own 17

Marie-Ange's Ginen 21

Dogs 33

Meat 54

Land 61

River Valley Rooms 80

Grande Jesula Gets a visit 130

The Chapel 141

Venant Found It Hard to Know 153

Dame Marie 159

At the Gate 167

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