Flamboya Tree

Kelly, Clara Olink. The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother’s Wartime Courage. New York: Random House, 2002.

This is a short memoir. Some would say too short. Clara Olink Kelly is just four years old when her family is torn apart by the Japanese invasion of the Pacific Island of Java during World War II. Clara’s father is forced to work on the Burma railroad while Clara’s mother is left to care for two small children and a pregnant with a second son. It isn’t long before the Japanese commandeer their home and the entire family is transferred to a concentration camp, Kamp Tjideng. There Clara spends four long years enduring extreme crowding, starvation, illness and unspeakable filth. In addition she witnesses horrific abuse and violence that would haunt her for the rest of her life. The one piece of home that keeps them going is a small painting of a red flamboya tree. This painting, because it was never abused or destroyed by the Japanese, became a symbol of strength for the family. It goes wherever they go. The other symbol of strength is Clara’s mother. The beautiful thing about The Flamboya Tree is that throughout the entire story Clara’s respect and admiration for her mother never waivers. It is a lovely tribute to a mother who did everything she could to protect her children and survive the harsh conditions.

Powerful line, “She still had the audacity to hold her head high” (p 61).

Reason read: To recognize Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence. Last year it was celebrated at the end of March.

Author fact: Do a search for Clara Olink Kelly and she pops up on the website IMDb because she appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell show in 2002. Do an image search for Clara Olink Kelly and you will discover she looks just like her mother.

Book trivia: There is a study guide for The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother’s Wartime Courage and the first question is, “would you have tried to escape?” What a loaded question!

BookLust Twist: From  Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Indicative of Indonesia” (p 104).

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