The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother's Wartime Courage

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Overview

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
“It is a well-known fact that war, any war, is senseless and degrading. When innocent people are brought into that war because they happen to be in the ...
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The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother's Wartime Courage

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Overview

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
“It is a well-known fact that war, any war, is senseless and degrading. When innocent people are brought into that war because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it becomes incomprehensible. Java, 1942, was such a place and time, and we were those innocent people.”
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, an insistent 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 theirfrightening 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 into the reader’s heart.
From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography:

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
This memoir of life in a Japanese prison camp during WW II is a loving tribute to Clara Kelly's mother, Clara Olink. Living a privileged life on the island of Java, the Olink family enjoyed the beauty and ease of their surroundings. Change came with the fall of Indonesia to the Japanese. All foreign nationals, including the Dutch, were interned under horrific conditions in prison camps. In 1942, the Olink family was separated as Kelly's father was sent to a labor camp where he worked on the Burma railroad that led to the bridge on the river Kwai. Kelly, her mother, and her brothers Willem and Gijs (a tiny infant) were sent to the notorious Kamp Tjideng for women and children with over 10,000 prisoners. In one of the suitcases Kelly's mother packed a favorite picture of a flamboya tree with the few belongings they were permitted to carry. This painting of a beautiful tropical scene would grace the wall of every hovel, shack, and lean-to the family occupied during their four years of imprisonment. Through the hardships of physical abuse, extreme hunger, and all the other human indignities, Clara Olink held her family together. She displayed courage and strength in the face of illness, forced labor in open sewers, and demeaning outbursts from the captors. For Kelly, the example of her mother's stiff upper lip, sense of discipline, and attention to routine and standards of behavior kept young Clara and her brothers from realizing the full extent of their physical danger over those four years. Clara scrounged food, bartered for medicine and household items, and devised small treats for her children in ways they did not understand or fully appreciate. Later, in reflecting on her mother's life,which included a painful divorce after the war and an early death from cancer, Kelly knew she had to convey to a new generation the fortitude of women like her mother, the noncombatants who faced the enemy with nothing but dignity and a hope for survival. Kelly still treasures the picture of the flamboya tree, which hangs on the wall in her home for children and grandchildren to admire. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, 211p. illus., Gerrity
Library Journal
How little Kelly and her family survived internment by the Japanese during World War II with the help of her redoubtable mother. A big publisher favorite. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A new voice sings an earnest but commonplace paean to her mother, whose grit and imagination helped her three young children survive nearly four years of imprisonment during the Japanese occupation of Java in WWII. Kelly, whose parents were Dutch, was only four years old when the Japanese invaded Java and began rounding up able-bodied men, her father among them, to build the Burma Road and forcing women and children into squalid camps. After an introduction that is a museum of cliches-her experiences, Kelly says, were like a "horrendous nightmare"-she offers a snapshot of the family in 1946: The war is over, and they have arrived back in Holland virtually penniless but with one dear possession they managed to retain-a painting of a flamboya tree. She then returns to 1942 and her Javanese life before the invasion. Her father inherited his own father's spice company, and the family enjoyed the easy quasi-colonial life of private swimming clubs, exotic food, and cheap servants. Throughout, Kelly seems blithely unaware of the moral algebra of her situation. Was the Japanese displacement of the Dutch so much different from the Dutch displacement of the Javanese? Kelly sees few if any connections. Instead, she notes without irony, "Our wonderful servants stood ever ready with their kindly faces to indulge our whims." Soon enough, her father is taken away and the family is arrested and confined to a round of near-starvation, endless roll calls in intense heat, physical abuse by guards, and odious physical labor. Kelly recalls the children's terrorizing by a guard's fierce pet monkey, brutal fights among the prisoners, and a Christmas chorus of "Silent Night." Eventually, the family returns toHolland and an oddly cold grandmother who cannot understand why they didn't just escape. Kelly still has the painting of the tree. Dutiful but dim. (b&w photographs throughout) Author tour
From the Publisher
Advance praise for
The Flamboya Tree

“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

“Simply told, deeply felt, Kelly’s The Flamboya Tree shows us that adversity can transform our lives into courageous,
life-affirming works of art.”
—Gwyn Hyman Rubio, author of Icy Sparks

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375506215
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/9/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Clara Olink Kelly lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her husband. When she is not painting or creating other artwork, she loves nothing better than to spend time with her children and grandchildren. The Flamboya Tree is her first book.

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Read an Excerpt

“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


“It is a well-known fact that war, any war, is senseless and degrading. When innocent people are brought into that war because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it becomes incomprehensible. Java, 1942, was such a place and time, and we were those innocent people.”

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, an insistent 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 childrenthrough 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 into the reader’s heart.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. What would you have packed — in only two suitcases — for yourself and three children?

2. Would you have tried to escape?

3. What item would you have packed that would have made your little space in camp feel like home?

4. What would you have done if you had had to leave your children behind, knowing that they would never survive on their own?

5. How would you react if you saw your two children smuggled back into camp, back to the squalid, filthy conditions, — when you had hoped that they were living a good, clean, well-fed life outside the prison camp?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2012

    The Flamboya Tree

    Clara Olink, a priviledged young Dutch wife and mother of three small children spend 4 years of WWII in one of the worst, most despicable Japanese concentration camps in the Dutch East Indies' island of Java. A true story of a mother's unbeatable spirit and her desire to bring her children safely through a horrendous childhood with the aid of a Children's Bible and a favorite frameless small painting of a flamboya tree. Clara Olink's story ranks with Agnes Newton Keith's "Three Came Home", I read years ago. MDK75

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