Isaac Williams, twelve-year-old son of American doctors at a mission hospital in Java, Indonesia, is certain that his friendship with Ismail Sutanto is as solid and enduring as the majestic flame tree in the yard. But the haven of their small world is shattered when a fundamentalist Islamic organization begins to threaten the hospital. Terrorists infiltrate, the State Department orders an evacuation, bombs explode, and Isaac is taken hostage.
The experience embitters Isaac. He knows that he should forgive those who have hurt him, yet he doesn't think that he can. His life is changed forever, but will it be forever crippled by his bitterness?
Set against the backdrop of September 11, 2001, The Flame Tree is a fierce novel of friendship, faith, and forgiveness. Richard Lewis tells a story that is at once timely and timeless, one that has the power to move hearts and open eyes.
Set in Indonesia before and after September 11th, 2001, Lewis explores issues of faith and race primarily through Isaac, the 12 year-old son of American Baptist missionaries, born and brought up in Indonesia, and his best friend Ismail, a local Muslim boy who gets caught up in the growing fervor of fundamentalism. One of the things that I found most interesting was Lewis' ability to depict both fundamentalist Christians and Muslims as they see themselves, and as others see them. There are a few elements of the plot that either aren't entirely explained, or seem to be tided up a little too neatly, but I suspect that in part this could be due to the rewriting required of Lewis to turn a book written for adults into one suitable for a younger audience. On that subject, it is worth noting that there are some relatively gruesome scenes in the book and a fair amount of talk about, and descriptions of, circumcisions and beheadings, which may cause some parents concern. Having said that, the violence described is nothing compared to many video games targeted at teenagers or what can be seen on the nightly news, or for that matter, many parts of the Old Testament!
Children's Literature - Karen Leggett
Although there is some measure of reconciliation among the angered parties at the end, the book raises more questions than it answers, both about its fictional characters and the many real-life cultural and religious issues that arise under the flame tree. Ages 12 up.
In this uneasy mix of thriller and didacticism, 12-year-old Isaac, son of American missionary doctors in Java, finds his life in danger after September 11, 2001, when fundamentalist Muslims rebel against Americans....The author, who lives in Indonesia, clearly knows the culture and presumably hopes to build a bridge between the two religious traditions, but both emerge tarnished, especially Islam.
School Library Journal - Kathleen Isaacs
Gr 8 Up-This is a remarkable reading experience for students willing to enmesh themselves in a different world.-Kathleen Isaacs
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... a riveting read. Ages 12-up.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Felicia Hogwash I think this book was a bunch of rubbish and if a pure English teen wants to read it would they know what all the words mean when they put the words in a different language... I had to read this book for English class first and second term and it... Read More
Rated of 5
by The flame tree reader rating this book is a very good book for adults
Charts a fascinating course through the sprawling land of Indonesia, where the home-bred Jemaah Islamiyah, Asia's answer to Al Qaeda, pursues its deadly ambition to create a Southeast Asia Islamic super-state.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...