Excerpt from The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Flame Tree

by Richard Lewis

The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis X
The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2004, 288 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter One

The Tuan Guru Haji Abdullah Abubakar first appeared in twelve-year-old Isaac Williams's largely untroubled life on a Saturday morning in late August.

Isaac sat thirty feet above the ground in the flame tree by the school wall, waiting for his best friend Ismail, who lived in a kampung on the other side of the Muslim cemetery. Three overlapping branches the size of his wrist, each carved with his initials, made a natural seat in front of an oval gap in the foliage through which he could observe a wide swath of the neighborhood before him.

Behind him was his other world. The American Academy of Wonobo, Java, a boarding school of the Union of American Baptists, offered a rigorous, godly education from first through ninth grades. Above the school's main doors, sternly carved on the sandstone gable pediment, was a verse from the Psalms: TEACH ME GOOD JUDGMENT AND KNOWLEDGE. Isaac did not board in the dorm there. He lived with his parents in a house on the residential side of the tangerine trees and hibiscus hedge that divided the large mission compound. Graham and Mary Williams were doctors at the Union of American Baptists' Immanuel Hospital, a four-story building that was the tallest for miles around and took up a good portion of the skyline to Isaac's right.

Isaac had just returned from a six-week summer trip to the States, most of that time spent with his family at the Connecticut gentleman's farm his grandpa Tarleton owned. His sixteen-year-old sister, Rachel, had stayed behind to go to a Christian boarding school in Virginia for her tenth grade. Such a fate was looming for Isaac, but he did his best not to think about it. Boy, it was great to be back home, even if his perch was smaller than he remembered and the top of the wall beneath him not as far away. The mission walls, quarried limestone blocks two feet thick and stacked eight feet high, kept the compound a world unto itself. The flame tree grew by the northern wall, shading a good part of the playground, but several of its branches thrust out over the wall and the public sidewalk of Hospital Street beyond.

Flame-of-the-forest trees, like American boys, are not native to Java, but flame trees and white boys born on the rich Javanese soil sink deep roots. This particular flame-of-the-forest had been planted thirty years ago as a promise tree, when the Wonobo Medical Mission had first opened its doors. The tree had grown with the mission, sprouting seedpods about the same time the mission added a school for the doctors' children. The tree grew and so did the school, which began accepting boarding students. When the tree could grow no higher, it grew thicker and wider. It seemed to Isaac that the tree had been there since the time of Creation and would be there until the Day of Judgment.

On the two-lane but occasionally four-way Hospital Street trishaws, bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, sedans, public transport jitneys, and a sugarcane cart pulled by two oxen rattled and rumbled and tooted and clopped. Pedestrians ambled along the cement brick sidewalks, many heading for the hospital's public gates a hundred yards to Isaac's right. Across the street the neighborhood mosque had new tin sheets on the roof and a new plywood facade of Moorish arches on the sagging front porch. The minaret displayed new speakers, with four of the six aimed at the school and hospital. The new Imam squatted on the front porch, a storky, beady-eyed man who wore white robes and the white cap of a haji who'd made the pilgrimage to Mecca. The old Imam had been fat and jovial; this one gave Isaac the shivers.

Sometime that morning a green banner had been stretched across the mosque's freshly painted wooden picket fence. Its ornate calligraphy proclaimed the mosque to be an official post of the Muslim society of the Nahdat Ummat al-Islam. Isaac had never heard of it before. Printed on the banner was a portrait of the society's leader, an ancient man in robes and turban, with sunken eyes, tombstone cheeks, a white tuft of a beard, and exorbitant eyebrows. TUAN GURU HAJI ABDULLAH ABUBAKAR, the portrait's title said. If the Imam gave Isaac the shivers, then this old man's lifeless gaze chilled his soul.

Copyright © 2004 by Richard Lewis

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Wrong End of the Telescope
    The Wrong End of the Telescope
    by Rabih Alameddine
    Rabih Alameddine's The Wrong End of the Telescope follows Mina, a Lebanese American doctor who ...
  • Book Jacket: Lightning Strike
    Lightning Strike
    by William Kent Krueger
    It is the summer of 1963 in Tamarack County, Minnesota. Just outside the small town of Aurora, ...
  • Book Jacket: Skinship
    Skinship
    by Yoon Choi
    The fine thing about short stories in general is their way of following characters through ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Last Mona Lisa
    by Jonathan Santlofer
    In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from its home at the Louvre in Paris. It took two years for the ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Morningside Heights
by Joshua Henkin
A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Win This Book!
Win Sisters of the Great War

Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

A powerful novel of two unconventional American sisters who volunteer at the front during World War I.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y A B Up T W T

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.