Title: The Island of Missing Trees
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Books), London
Publication date: 2021
Reviewer: Peta Browne
One of the reasons I love reading is the ability to travel to, and experience, other places.
I often choose a book based on where it’s set and where I feel like ‘travelling’ to.
The Island of Missing Trees is set largely in Cyprus in 1974 when the country was in turmoil and the civil war between the Turks and the Greeks was heightening.
Cyprus is somewhere I haven’t been (real or imagined) but I feel some connection as my father visited there in the early 1980s while on peacekeeping duty in the Sinai.
He told a story about the guards in the border towers that has stayed with me to this day.
In Shafak’s beautifully told novel Kostas and Defne, two teenagers from opposite sides of the conflict, keep their romance secret and meet in a local tavern.
In the centre of the tavern growing through a hole in the ceiling is a fig tree, which bears witness not only to their meetings but also to many other lives, moments, and tragedies.
Years later in London, Kostas and Defne’s teenage daughter Ada is struggling. She yearns to understand her parents’ past and the trauma it has clearly implanted.
Central to the narrative, and woven throughout, is the story and point of view of the fig tree.
It provides vital information, wise observations, and a link between past, present, and future.
In addition to themes of belonging, identity, memory, and generational trauma, Shafak’s story is also an ode to trees and nature.
We don’t really notice trees, but they have unexpectedly rich lives and have been important in human history as places of refuge, meeting, and pivotal events.
I loved this story.
The Island of Missing Trees is my first Elif Shafak novel, but it won’t be my last.
Her language and storytelling are beautiful, rich, evocative, and empathetic.