The Island of Missing Trees : A Novel by Elif Shafak

But legends are there to tell us what history has forgotten.

The novel begins with the beautiful island of Cyprus ‘golden beaches and turquoise waters’, shadowed by a demarcation line. There is also a well, with a tragic story waiting to unfold, one of love that met with horror, a cruelty that time cannot hide forever. But we begin in the 2010s England, with a girl named Ada (Island) Kazantzakis, age sixteen. Ada’s mother Defne has passed away, leaving her alone with her eccentric father Kostas, an evolutionary ecologist and botanist who is far better with trees than people. She has little to no understanding of her parents past nor their lives on Cyprus and only a weak link to her relatives. With a Greek father and a Turkish mother, her looks stand out as foreign, but she is English, doesn’t even speak either of her parent’s language. She has never traveled to meet either side of the family nor has family ever visited them, not even for her beloved mother’s funeral. So much about her parents are a mystery, and how can she understand who she is without their history? Defne was her light, and now that she is gone, so much is dark. Her father has always seemed unsteady, fragile and Defne kept him centered. Ada knows only one thing, she cannot burden him with her sadness. She has buried her grief, but it will force its way to the surface, and in a humiliating scene in front of her peers.

Kostas is wrapped up in tending to a fig tree in their garden, and it is this beautiful fig that speaks to the reader. A descendant in a long line and an earthbound sentient being that understands the suffering of immigrants. If only Ada felt as connected as the fig, had a deeper understanding of how her parents arrived at the place they settled and made a family. She is a child born of division, her wound is now open for the world to see, and the exposure is unstoppable. It is when her Aunt Meryem, whom Ada is reluctant to accept, arrives that her mother’s history spills out and she begins connecting to her own roots. It is a story of forbidden love, and a special meeting place where burning hearts go to find shelter, happiness, and escape from violent reality. A place where Greeks, Turks, Armenians, UN soldiers, Maronites, and visitors break down barriers, share stories and become friends. This unique tavern is owned by two men who know all about division be it religion, love, family, country, culture or deeply guarded secrets. It is here that Kostas and Defne can tuck into their love openly. The men, Yiorgos and Yusuf, have created a place of celebration conceived for the purpose of triumph, joy, and small miracles. It touches many lives, and yet darkness is waiting to undo it all.

One cannot remain in a safe place, the world comes crashing in, decisions must be made and some are life or death. In choosing each other, Defne and Kostas have to promise to keep the weight of the past off their daughter’s shoulders. Naturally there are consequences, a child who has no story, no connection feels rootless, lost. She aches for her identity as much as she aches over the loss of her mother. It is a fate many face when leaving their homeland, particularly if they wish to cut ties with pain. You can reinvent yourself, but you can never fully discard the earlier selves, for we are formed by the places we have grown up in. How do we fit in with the people of our adopted country and what does the next generation make of the remnants of our past? At our core, humans long for their family history, for roots. This is such a sad story and yet overwhelming beautiful too. A fig tree as a symbol, rich in history- yes read it!

Publication Date: November 2, 2021

Bloomsbury USA

2 thoughts on “The Island of Missing Trees : A Novel by Elif Shafak

  1. Yes, I’ll be reading this one, though I suspect I won’t agree about not knowing the family’s past makes one rootless. I know only fragments of my family’s story, but I don’t yearn for it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s