The Flame Tree
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2004.
Ages 12 and up
Richard Lewis 's first novel, The Flame Tree, is a book dealing with the concept of Islamic fundamentalism. The thought-provoking story, set in Indonesia in the aftermath of 9/11, questions some of the stereotypes on the Islamic world held over the past few years.
The main character is Isaac, a 12-year old white American, Christian boy, who lives in a missionary hospital in Indonesia. Isaac lives a good life: he has the run of the town, and many of the Islamic residents are his friends. However, this carefree existence changes when the Nhadat Ummat al-Islam takes over the town. The Nhadat Ummat al-Islam is an anti-American group who believes that Indonesia should be cleansed of all non-Muslims. They start to terrorize the small Christian community. They begin by collecting `tax' from the Christians, and the situation worsens, up to the point where a bomb is placed in the Christian hospital. The situation in Isaac's town becomes so bad that the American government arranges an evacuation of the Americans in the town. Isaac's parents decide to stay but Isaac decides to leave.
As Isaac leaves by helicopter, an explosion below destroyed his means of escape. Isaac survives the crash, but the Nhadat Ummat al-Islam captures him. While in captivity, however, he learns much more about the religion he was fleeing, and finds out more about the real Islam.
Don't be fooled by this book: it is not insulting the Islamic religion. It is a book trying to dispel stereotypes especially common since 9/11, and tries to show us the true Islam, not the extreme version often portrayed by the media. The first part of the book shows the "extremist" view -- bombing, xenophobia, etc. The second part of the book explains Islam, and its many beliefs, while the final part shows the compassion shown to Isaac by the Muslims in the book.
Not only is The Flame Tree an exciting book, it also provides us with a new perspective on Islamic Christian relationships in one of Asia's largest countries.
January 9, 2005
Nicholas Gordon is a Hong Kong secondary school