The Island of Missing Trees: A Novel
Tucked into a core narrative about a teenage girl trying to uncover the secrets of her family’s painful past, the true story in Elif Shafak’s The Island of Missing Trees is an expansive account of Cyprus as an ancient love story and modern war wound. Like the branches of a fig tree, the novel’s plot reaches and bifurcates into different stories that come from the same center—born on an island torn between two ethnic communities, a once-thriving ecosystem struggling to survive in a 20th century environment of deforestation and rapid economic growth.
One of the branches holds Kostas, Defne, and their daughter Ada, a family born despite (or perhaps because) of the rift between their warring communities. Flashing back between Kostas and Defne’s dangerous teenage love affair during a brewing war period and the quiet melancholy of their adopted country, England, after Defne’s death, the reader journeys with Ada as she reconnects with a past and heritage that had been calloused over and hidden away from her. The fig tree is another central character in the story, recalling her own ancient pains as observer, resident, and refugee of Cyprus’s civil war and ecological deterioration. Shafak’s voice is tender but piercing, laying out each character’s joy and hurt as the novel unravels and reweaves itself across generations, borders, and butterfly migrations.
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