Book review: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

I bought this book, The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, on my way to Corfu as it is set in 1974 on the island of Cyprus and so I thought it would be a good read for my holiday and it proved to surpass all expectations. The author, Elif Shafak, wrote the Booker-shortlisted, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World.


The story is about two islanders, Kostas, a Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, who can only meet at a taverna where there is a fig tree growing up through a cavity in the roof as well as garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and herbs hanging from the blackened beams.

Their story is also magically told through the ‘eyes’ of the fig tree as the tree witnesses the illicit love affair between Kostas and Defne. The tree was also there when war breaks out on Cyprus in July 1974 and it sees the destruction of the island and many of its inhabitants.

Decades later, Ada, a 16-year-old who has grown up in England but never visited the island of her parents, is desperately seeking answers. The only connection she has is the fig tree that grows in their North London garden.

It is a brilliantly told story using the imaginative narrative of a tree that has lived through it all. It is also a story of a war that destroyed so much and gained little. It is a story of love and trauma, nature and all its virtues, forgiveness and understanding.

As we watch immigrants now being up-rooted and re-rooted it is a story from another century of these effects both short and long-term. The use of the tree as a narrator with its own actual roots has a unique and unusually paralleled effect on the reader. It is inspired and magical writing by Elif Shafak and I am sure this book is going to captivate and transport a whole new audience.

As I wrote this review I received an email from the Cliveden Literary Festival (23rd & 24th October at Cliveden House) announcing that Elif Shafak will be attending to explore how words can transform worlds.

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