THE FLAME TREE

Richard Lewis, Author . S&S $16.95 (276p) ISBN 978-0-689-86333-2

The graphic depiction of terrorist acts (such as beheadings) may be too intense for some readers, but Lewis poses some provocative questions about faith and fervor in this gritty first novel set in Indonesia around the time of September 11. The author explores the issues, at least initially, through the friendship of main character Isaac, who is living with his missionary physician parents, and his Muslim friend Ismail. Despite the friends' obvious biblical names, the way they relate to each other unfolds subtly and authentically. But as anti-American (and anti-infidel) sentiments rise in the days leading up to the bombing of the World Trade Center, Ismail turns against Isaac. At first, the author depicts the growing tension between them realistically, and readers can almost feel Isaac's pain and confusion at his friend's cold shoulder. But soon the narrative paints the issues in broad strokes and the characters' relationship gets lost in the larger themes. When Isaac's parents decide their son should leave Indonesia for the U.S., he is kidnapped by Islamic fanatics bent on converting him into a Muslim (occasioning graphic details of his forced circumcision). The author (himself the son of missionaries) reveals links between two seemingly opposed religions and explores reasons that many Islamic people resent Americans. Showing how religious ideas and ideals can breed atrocities against humanity, he creates a riveting read. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 09/06/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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