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“The Flamboya Tree is a fascinating story that will leave the reader informed about a missing piece of the World War II experience, and in awe of one family’s survival.” —Elizabeth M. Norman, author of
We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese
Fifty years after the end of World War II, Clara Olink Kelly sat down to write a memoir that is both a fierce and enduring testament to a mother’s courage and a poignant record of an often overlooked chapter of the war.
As the fighting in the Pacific spread, four-year-old Clara Olink and her family found their tranquil, pampered lives on the beautiful island of Java torn apart by the invasion of Japanese troops. Clara’s father was taken away, forced to work on the Burma railroad. For Clara, her mother, and her two brothers, the younger one only six weeks old, a knock on the door ended all hope of escaping internment in a concentration camp. For nearly four years, they endured starvation, filth-ridden living conditions, sickness, and the danger of violence from their prison guards. Clara credits her mother with their survival: Even in the most perilous of situations, Clara’s mother never compromised her beliefs, never admitted defeat, and never lost her courage. Her resilience sustained her three children through their frightening years in the camp.
Told through the eyes of a young Clara, who was eight at the end of her family’s ordeal, The Flamboya Tree portrays her mother’s tenacity, the power of hope and humor, and the buoyancy of a child’s spirit. A painting of a flamboya tree—a treasured possession of the family’s former life—miraculously survived the surprise searches by the often brutal Japanese soldiers and every last-minute flight. Just as her mother carried this painting through the years of imprisonment and the life that followed, so Clara carries her mother’s unvanquished spirit through all of her experiences and onto the written page.
“The Flamboya Tree is that rare treasure—a memoir so powerful and vivid that it draws the past into the present and makes us all history’s creatures.” —Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
“Sometimes the history of war hides its best stories, its fine, quiet stories. The Flamboya Tree is such a story, with some kinship to Nicholas Gage’s Eleni, and, in the same extraordinary way, is about the triumph of love and compassion and decency.” —Alan Furst, author of Kingdom of Shadows
“Surefooted and bighearted, Kelly’s narrative offers testimony to the sustaining power of dignity and courage in the face of impossible circumstance.” —Beth Kephart, author of A Slant of Sun
“As Clara Kelly honors her mother’s memory, we are reminded that not all the heroes of World War II faced the bullets of the battlefield.” —James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
“The Flamboya Tree is like a bright jewel found in the dust of fading history. I was bowled over by this book.” —Carolyn See, author of The Handyman