THE FLAMBOYA TREE: Memories of a Mother's Wartime Courage

Clara Olink Kelly, Author . Random $21.95 (208p) ISBN 0-375-50621-7

As the Japanese Empire drew closer and closer to Indonesia during WWII, the four-year-old Kelly, part of a wealthy Dutch colonial family, found her world—of servants, of strict and proper manners, of trips with her father to the rubber factory and exotic spice warehouse—was about to come crashing down. Neighbors boarded up their houses and departed; a few weeks after her mother gave birth, the Japanese came with a truck, separating Kelly, her mother and her siblings from her father. Kelly's childhood impressions show us her mother's determined struggle to bring the family through the harsh conditions of a Japanese interment camp. One of the mother's many acts of care is to carry along the family's painting of a flamboya tree as they leave their house, and to put it up in their various places of internment. The camp is constantly crowded, and rife with food shortages, cruel guards and little cooperation between any of the detainees. Many people die of starvation, malnutrition, disease or maltreatment. Parallels between the conditions in the camps and the terrible conditions of the Javanese, with whom the prisoners trade, are not drawn. Still, Kelly, now a grandmother, has produced an affecting account of wartime deprivation, which ends up taking a serious toll on her parents' relationship when the family, eventually, is reunited in Holland. The painting now hangs Kelly's Bellingham, Wash., home. (On Sale Apr. 9)

Forecast:Though well written, this is a modest memoir in a familiar subgenre. It could pick up some readers via a six-city author tour, but it is too late for Pearl Harbor anniversary-based interest. The father's range of misdeeds, implied at book's end, would add darker nuances to any adaptation.

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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