The Flamboya Tree by Clara Kelly
Memories of a Mother's Wartime Courage

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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

“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 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Clara Kelly

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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.From the Hardcover edition.
Published October 19, 2011 by Random House. 306 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, War, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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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 to Holland and an oddly cold grandmother who cannot understand why they didn’t just escape.

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Publishers Weekly

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As the Japanese Empire drew closer and closer to Indonesia during WWII, the four-year-old Kelly, part of a wealthy Dutch colonial family, found her world—of servants, of strict and proper manners, of trips with her father to the rubber factory and exotic spice warehouse—was about to come crashing...

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