The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti

The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti

by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell

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Product Details

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

About the Author

Painter, poet, and short story writerMarilène 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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The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
IsolaBlue on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Discovering a new writer from Haiti is always a cultural thrill. Edwidge Danticat and Dany Leferriere, mainstays of Haitian literature, now have a new writer joining their ranks. Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell gives us a Haiti that is, simultaneously, both similar to and very different from the Haiti of Danticat and Leferriere. Much of this has to do with class and color, two classic dividers in countries all over the world. Yet anyone who knows Haiti, understands that if one was born there or has lived there for any length of time, no matter what one's color or class, there are universal observations to be made. Phipps-Kettlewell's book of short stories is a wonderful treasure of observations and tales threaded through with memory. It is the writing of a visual artist as Phipps-Kettlewell is in her everyday work life. Her stories, her word choices, the way she "paints" the page, all show evidence of a creative mind capable of working in a variety of mediums. Not all stories in "The Company of Heaven" are equally successful. The book's offerings are uneven. Some stories such as "Saint Bernadette at Night," "Marie-Ange's Ginen," and parts of "River Valley Rooms" stand out for their message as well as for their style. Other stories, not quite on the same par, work the reader a bit harder as the writing is choppier and the message more jumbled. But then again, Haiti is a bit choppy and jumbled, and anyone who has experienced the country knows that. So even the least successful stories in the collection feel authentic. Grief, regret, and inevitability are subjects that Phipps-Kettlewell handles with grace. Her characters are very real and some, quite memorable. Phipps-Kettlewell is an inventive woman in touch with her present and her past, and we should all look to see what she does next. Will it be a book of her paintings and her prose? Will it be a novel? Will she invent a new art form? Or will she - as she says in "River Valley Rooms": "I close the wood shutters and pull the curtains. There is a peace in their whiteness that invites sleep."
susanbooks on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Oh, how I want to like this book. I have all the good will in the world towards it. The author is Haitian; many of my students lost loved ones in the earthquake. The book won an Iowa Short Fiction Award; I have an institutional crush on their writing program. It's by a woman; nuff said. So I'll start with the strengths. In searching for said strengths I looked for help to the reviews on the back. There, Henry Louis Gates (I like him! More good will!) describes the stories as 'painterly.' And after thinking a bit, yes, he's absolutely right, the visual effect of this book is powerful. Images are strong but especially so are colors. And then there's, um, the font? Which is very clear.If you're looking for strongly visual stories without a hint of linguistic grace or readerly interest, then this is for you. Part of the problem may be that I read this while I've been reading Sylvia Plath's diaries. Plath is agonizing over her writing, aiming, she says, for "a complex, rich, colored & subtle syntactical structure to contain, to chalice, the thought & feeling of each second" (Unabridged Diaries 375). Few can succeed in so gorgeously described a goal, but it doesn't feel as if this writer even tries. The words here are lumpen, holding nothing other than their own awkwardness. A writer's story may be strong enough to override these problems. For me, though, these stories are not. There was no emotion here, no living, breathing characters. One particularly bad story starts with a great line, "Inevitably, she fell." The short, quick, violent yet resigned tone has me intrigued. There's no pay off, though. By the end a disastrous head injury has been likened to a chicken with its head cut off. In the right hands that could be devastating. Phipps-Kettlewell does nothing smart or shocking with it, tho. The metaphor lies as awkward and lifeless as the decapitated bird. Within that story another metaphor reveals the impoverishment of this book: "events are contained within us from the start. They wait in line like pearls in my mother's necklace, and one small cut, one inadvertent snap, all lets loose in unavoidable succession." There's no development of this image, which is pretty enough. But unstrung pearl necklaces are cliches unless you do something more with them. It's a boring image we've all been asked to think of way too often. Much else is familiar right down to the obligatory voodoo ritual. If you're looking for a voice from this area of the world, check out Jamaica Kincaid or Junot Diaz & pass this one by.
guyalice on LibraryThing 5 months ago
With the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, Haiti has been in the world's focus. With Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell's collection of short stories, we can get some insight into the country that has drawn our attention.The book is refreshing, giving us a view at Haitian culture beyond voodoo and extreme poverty. Phipps-Kettlewell reveals a diverse nation in its class and economic strata and its religions. Voudoun is present in some of the stories, but it is fairly portrayed as an important belief alongside Catholicism. There are elements of magical realism (another stereotype First World nations tend to dump on the literature of Latin American and Caribbean countries), but most of the stories reveal their wonder through the author's poetic writing.Some stories will stand out more than others, but there are no mediocre works in this collection. I hope it can open a door not only for Phipps-Kettlewell's growing career but also for other Haitian and Caribbean writers.
kidzdoc on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This collection of short stories about the lives of contemporary Haitians was awarded the 2010 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Several of the stories are good, especially "Dogs", in which an elderly woman keeps an unruly group of wild dogs who she favors over humans, and "Marie-Ange's Ginnen", an account of a woman who is tricked, along with several of her neighbors, into taking a boat that will supposedly take them to Miami but runs out of fuel soon after it leaves the coast. The writing in these stories is lyrical; however, I found it difficult to engage with the characters and their stories, and I became increasingly uninterested in the book after its promising beginning.
chelseagirl on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Short stories, some interrelated, by a Haitian visual artist and poet. The most interesting thing about the collection is the class perspective -- the stories feature wealthy families as well as poverty-stricken ones, and there are some interesting examinations of the interrelationship between class and race. Some of the stories are more vivid than others, and some more original, while others fall too easily into cliche, or are a bit muddy in their outcome. Phipps-Kettlewell does better, I think, with realism than with magic. "Down by the River" and "The Chapel" stood out for me.
andreablythe on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The pieces in this collection are more portraits than stories, each one presenting days, weeks, or years in the life of someone in Haiti, from a woman trying to survive a refugee boat ride to the U.S. to magic makers to to a chapel observing its inhabitants. While the writing is lovingly descriptive, I did not really become absorbed by these stories. Some even bored me slightly. However, I did really enjoy a few stories, such as: "Dogs" about a woman who fills her house with stray dogs, because they are more honest creatures than most of humanity; "Grande Jesula Gets a Visit" about Jesula, a Mother of Spirits, full a snarky attitude and wild joy; and "At the Gate" in which a man sets up a make shift school in front of an insane asylum and sees philosophers and teachers in all the people around him. In fact, I would say that those three stories are fantastic, and worth reading again. Everything else in the book didn't quite grab me the same way; they weren't bad, just not interesting to me.