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Reviews of The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis

The Flame Tree

by Richard Lewis

The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis X
The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2004, 288 pages

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Book Summary

Against the backdrop of September 11, 2001, The Flame Tree is a fierce novel of friendship, faith, and forgiveness set in Indonesia. Suitable for teens and adults.

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.

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...

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Reviews

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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!

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.

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

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.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Reader Reviews

The flame tree reader

rating
this book is a very good book for adults
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

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