by Varunika
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The ISLAND of MISSING TREES by ELIF SHAFAK, is a spellbinding saga of forbidden love, the aftermath of a civil war, the sufferings of immigrants, and generational trauma. The meticulously written tale travels back and forth in time between London and Cyprus, with a fig tree as a protagonist for more than half of the book.

The powerful dedication at the start hints strongly at the larger-than-life story that follows –

To immigrants and exiles everywhere,

the uprooted, the re-rooted, the rootless,

And to the trees we left behind,

Rooted in our memories….

The story revolves around a couple madly in love but thwarted by bad luck—Kostas, a Greek young man, and Defne, a Turkish Cypriot. They marry and move to England but their past continues to haunt them. Ada, their 16-year-old daughter seeks answers for the silence that hovers over her family history, her mother’s death, and her Botanist father’s obsession with the Fig tree planted in their back garden.

While any other author may have erred considering the many sub-plots of intercommunal love, colonialism, immigrant life, mental health, teenage angst, and the sufferings of a tree; this might not be the case with ELIF SHAFAK, who has woven all these threads together into an intelligent, intense, and incredible reading experience.

Known for exploring stories around women’s rights, human rights, and freedom of speech, ELOF SHAFAK went a little further with this book by putting the spotlight on a Fig tree who does not disappoint!

There are many parts of the book that enthral you.  The evocation of dead Cypriots and the aftermath of a civil war is extremely lucid and poignant. The way the story alternates between Ada, the fig tree, and the memories of Cyprus – keeps the readers hooked chapter after chapter. The arboreal suffering presented through the Fig tree is deeply moving and joyful; the personification of a Fig tree, in particular.

Consider the following excerpt:

Today when other trees ask me how old I am, I find it hard to give a definite answer. I was ninety- six years old the last time I remember myself in a tavern in Cyprus. I, who grew from a cutting planted in England, am now slightly over Sixteen.

Or this one:

They know, deep within, that when you save a fig tree from a storm, it is someone’s memory you are saving.

Detailed and delicately constructed plotline around the fractured history of Cyprus, and the eye-opening gentle insights into the world of figs, bees, ants, and butterflies are aspects that stood out for me apart from the author’s mastery over story-telling.

There are books. And then there is The ISLAND of MISSING TREES by ELIF SHAFAK. Do read, if you haven’t already.

P.S. – 19 books to her credit, and I truly believe The ISLAND of MISSING TREES is one of the Elif Shafak’s best works to date.

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