The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak focuses on the love story between Kostas and Define in the 1970’s. Kostas and Define come from different cultures/religions making their love forbidden. Kostas is Greek/Cypriot and comes from a Christian family, whereas Define is Turkish and comes from a Muslim family. They must keep their relationship a secret as both Turkey and Cyprus are going through political conflict. In order to not get caught, both meet at night at a local tavern known as The Happy Fig as right in the middle there is a fig tree. Fast forward to 2010 in London, Ada the daughter of Kostas and Define, feels disconnected as she doesn’t know much about her parents past and what they endured. The only thing she has of Cyprus is the fig tree her parents brought with them to London.
Elif Shafak is an author I have wanted to read for longer than I can remember. I’ve heard nothing but superb things about her writing and how compelling her stories are. Having read The Island of Missing Trees, Elif is an author who I definitely want to read more of now. She has written this absolutely beautiful and emotional story that reminds me why I love literature so much.
Elif Shafak explores many themes such as depression, trauma, divisions within cultures, being disconnected from the world, and conflict. The long lasting trauma of the people of Cyprus as a result of war/conflict was a major focus of the story. I had known there was tension between Cyprus and Turkey, but never really understood why until now. This book really highlights why many individuals had to flee cyprus amidst a country on the brink of collapse due to the conflict. It was really heartbreaking to read about it as many innocent people were killed during this time period. The fact that people had to leave where they had grown up in order to keep their families safe really broke my heart.
Through the character of Ada, Elif Shafak explores the notion of the feelings an individual goes through having had no real notion of their past. Ada is unaware of everything her parents endured which is causing her to feel lost in terms of her identity. She wants to feel whole and understand from where she comes. This feeling further weighs on Ada’s mind after being given a school assignment that requires her to interview an older family member about their history. The bubbling tension inside of her ends up erupting in class when she decides to scream and ends up going viral as a result.
“If Harvard has remained a mystery, Cypress was a bigger one. She had seen pictures on the internet, but she had not once traveled to the place after which she was named.”
Going back to Kostas and Define, I absolutely loved them both and their love story was truly heartwarming. I ended up becoming so attached to their characters and I wish I had been able to spend more time getting to know them. I saw so much of them in Ada through wee traits in her which again blew me away at how amazing Elif Shafak’s writing is.
The most unique thing about this novel was seeing from the POV of the fig tree. The fig tree narrates what it witnessed in Cyprus amidst the conflict whilst also exploring the importance of itself to the ecosystem and natural world. These sections were absolutely wonderful and the amount of quotes I saved and wisdom I gained from a fig tree makes me chuckle. I actually learned so much about nature and the facts the Fig tree shared make me want to grow my own fig tree one day. Elif also highlights how we should be more serious about looking after nature and how lost we would be if the ecosystem collapsed on us. I think we forget that humans and nature go hand in hand so it’s crucial to do more to save the environment from ourselves!
“A tree is a memory keeper. Tangled beneath the roots heading inside our trunks, are the sinews of history, the ruins of wars nobody came to win, the bones of the missing”
Finally, the writing in this novel was some of the most beautiful and poetic writing I have ever come across. I shit you not I have saved so many quotes from this novel that I love reading back again and again because of how hard they hit me in the feels. The author was quickly able to make me feel attachment to the characters. I just wanted them all to be happy as they’ve all been through so much 😞. Thankfully the novel ends on a high note and I was left feeling happy knowing everything was going to be ok for the characters. The last chapter narrated by the Fig Tree was *chefs kiss”.
Overall, I absolutely loved this novel and it’s up there with one of my favourite novels of all time. Although loss is a big focus of the story, Elif Shafak highlights the importance of hope and doing what you believe in no matter what. The book also does well in highlighting the wonders of nature and the importance of sustainability. I can’t wait to read more books by Elif and I know she’s going to continue blowing me away with her amazing stories and writing.
Thank you so much to Bloomsbury and Rosie for sending me an ARC. So grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this wonderful book 😊.