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The Island of Missing Trees (2021)

by Elif Shafak

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1065218,326 (4.04)160
"Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig tree stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The tree is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he's searching for lost love. Years later a Ficus carica grows in the back garden of a house in London where Ada Kazantzakis lives. This tree is her only connection to an island she has never visited -- her only connection to her family's troubled history and her complex identity as she seeks to untangle years of secrets to find her place in the world. A moving, beautifully written, and delicately constructed story of love, division, transcendence, history, and eco-consciousness, The Island of Missing Trees is Elif Shafak's best work yet." --… (more)
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» See also 160 mentions

English (46)  Dutch (4)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
In the last month three of the books I've read have had Reese's Book Club stickers on them. It's not that I've been consciously trying to read them; in fact, until this past month I don't know if I have ever looked at the Reese's Book Club web site. But now that I know that I seem to like these picks I think I'll have to keep closer tabs on them.

This book has a little bit of everything: romance, grief, war, death, nature, teenage angst, three time lines and a tree narrator. And yet it's not chaotic. Every piece seems quite necessary. Cyprus is the island in the title and much of the book takes place there. However, London is where the book opens. Ada Kazantzakis is in the last class before Christmas break but, unlike the other students, she's not looking forward to the break. She is still grieving for her mother and so is her father. Plus being of mixed Greek and Turk blood, they've never really gone in for religion. Suddenly, Ada starts screaming at the top of her lungs and won't stop until her throat is absolutely unable to make another sound. Ada's father, Kostas, rushes to the school leaving his beloved fig tree only partially buried, a task he wanted to accomplish before a bad storm hit England. Ada doesn't want to talk about the incident partly because she is embarrassed and partly because she doesn't know why she did it. She wonders if there is some mental instability in the family and she dreads going back to school after the break. The looming break sounds like it will be awful but then, out of the blue, her mother's sister Meryem turns up. Meryem had never met her niece and Ada isn't disposed to like her because she didn't come for her mother's funeral. Learning why this is so necessitates going back to 1974 and to Nicosia in Cyprus where Kostas, a Greek Cypriot, and Defne, a Turkish Cypriot, fell in love . They had to meet in secret, obviously, so the owners of The Happy Fig restaurant, who were themselves a mixed couple, let them come to a small back room in the restaurant. The place got its name because a big fig tree grew in the centre of the establishment. Years later, Kostas took a slip of this fig tree and smuggled it to London where he planted it in their garden. This is the fig tree that he was trying to save from the big storm when he got called to Ada's school. Kostas and Defne were separated by the civil war of 1974 but years later they were reunited. By this time Kostas was a well-known scientist who understands the symbiotic relationship between trees, animals, and insects and Defne was an archaeologist involved with finding the bodies of people killed during the civil war. Of course, the reader discovers these things bit by bit from the fig tree and from Ada's conversations with her aunt. Ada and Meryam become close which facilitates Ada's coming to terms with her mother's death and the shame of her screaming outburst.

I loved the fig tree's narration of some of the story. It's such a clever way to disclose plot elements. And, if you were worried about whether the fig tree survived, never fret. ( )
  gypsysmom | May 6, 2024 |
“If you weep for all the sorrows in this world, in the end you will have no eyes.”

Island of Missing Trees is a beautiful, lyrical book written by Turkish author Elif Shafak. It has been shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year 2022, RSL Ondaatje Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The story shifts between teenage Ada Kazantzakis living in London in the 2010s, and her parents’ lives on the troubled island of Cyprus in 1974. One of the narrators is a fig tree transplanted from Cyprus to England, bringing some ecological wisdom and insight into the story with lines like, “I wish I could have told him that loneliness is a human invention. Trees are never lonely. Humans think they know with certainty where their being ends and where someone else’s starts. With their roots tangled and caught up underground, linked to fungi and bacteria, trees harbour no such illusion. For us, everything is interconnected.”

I read this book as the August selection for our book club and as part of my round the world reading challenge. Cyprus has been the site of civil war and unrest due to tensions between the majority Christian Greek Cypriot population in the south and the Muslim Turkish Cypriot population in the north. In 1974 a coup d’état by Greek Cypriot nationalists attempted to gain enosis or union with Greece. This prompted an invasion of Northern Cyprus by Turkey, displacing over 200,000 people. The island became divided, with a UN buffer zone running right through the capital city Nicosia. In the middle of this unlikely environment a romance blossoms between Kostas and Defne, a romance that neither of their families will accept as they are on the opposite sides of both the racial and religious divide. They secretly meet at the Happy Fig taverna under the watchful eye of the majestic fig and the kindly tavern owners Yusuf and Yiorgos.

After a dramatic event at school Ada tries to understand the family secrets and sorrows that have always been hidden from her in an attempt to shield her from the suffering. When the dynamic Aunt Meryem visits, Ada finally begins to learn some of the story. Aunt Meryem is also a fount of superstition, folklore, recipes and a collection of her own colourful proverbs such as, “The world is unfair…If a stone falls on an egg, it is bad for the egg; if an egg falls on a stone, it is still bad for the egg.”

The story was a gentle exploration of the impacts of suffering and loss, the power of love and hope in the face of hardship, and the need for remembrance and closure. 5 stars for me. ( )
  mimbza | Apr 29, 2024 |
I’ve visited Cyprus many times over the years and have always been curious about its history and its people, the bloodshed and displacement. Elif Shafak describes the course of events in heart-breaking detail and gave me a greater understanding of the crisis and the impact it had on the islanders.

The Island of the Missing Trees is narrated over three different timelines: divided Nicosia in 1974, Cyprus in the early 2000s and London in the late 2010s. It tells the moving story of Greek Cypriot Kostas and Turkish Cypriot Dephne who fall in love as teenagers and are forced to meet secretly in the back room of The Happy Fig, a tavern named after the fig tree that grows through its roof. Their future is shaped by the outbreak of war and family loyalties, their journey driven by buried memories and missing people.

I loved the way nature is brought to life, the shimmering clouds of butterflies, the multi-lingual Chico and the musings and memories of an ancient ficus carica. The prose is lyrical, the analogies sublime.

Roots, trunks and branches. Rooted, uprooted and re-rooted. Nationalism, alcoholism and depression. Forbidden love, enduring love and hidden love. Mythology, mysticism and djinns. Massacre, murder and mayhem. Archaeology, ecology and botany. Teenage angst, mouth-watering cuisine and home. Heart, body and soul. The Island of Missing Trees is a diverse and immersive read.

“Arriving there is what you are destined for,
But do not hurry the journey at all.”

Savoured from start to end.

Magical, mesmerising and moving ( )
  geraldine_croft | Mar 22, 2024 |
This book hovered between a 4 and 5 rating. There were enough elements to make it a 5 - good writing, history and politics of Cyprus (not common in literature), some mystery as you wonder what happened between Defne and Kostas, and a flamboyant aunt Meryem arriving on the scene. An engaging read and I remember there was at least one part that moved me but now I can't remember what it is. But I didn't really like the fig tree's narration. It is ingenious but the tree can be rather verbose, slowing down the plot. ( )
  siok | Feb 18, 2024 |
Borrowed from library .
In this novel a fig tree watches, waits and witnesses. A young couple meet secretly because he is Greek and she’s Turk and they cannot be together. They meet at a Tavern called “ The Happy Fig”. Fast forward and father and daughter are in London trying to get on after Ada’s mother’s death. Kostas has planted a graft from the happy fig in their backyard . The tree talks to the readers and it’s not weird. This novel is filled with a love for nature and is rooted in the arboreal world. There is a love too for a fractured island, Cyprus which is home to Kostas and Defne during war torn years.
There is a lovely poetry and mysticism to this book ( )
  Smits | Dec 11, 2023 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elif Shafakprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pérez Parra, Inmaculada C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet. I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world. 

                     —Pablo Neruda, Memoirs
It will have blood: They say blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak . . .

         —William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Dedication
To immigrants and exiles everywhere,
             the uprooted, the re-rooted, the rootless

And to the trees we left behind
                       rooted in our memories . . .
First words
Once upon a memory, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, there lay an island so beautiful and blue that the many travelers, pilgrims, crusaders and merchants who fell in love with it either wanted never to leave or tried to tow it with hemp ropes all the way back to their own countries.
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…bridges appear in our lives only when we are ready to cross them.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Een meeslepend en rijk verhaal om niet te vergeten!
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"Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig tree stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The tree is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he's searching for lost love. Years later a Ficus carica grows in the back garden of a house in London where Ada Kazantzakis lives. This tree is her only connection to an island she has never visited -- her only connection to her family's troubled history and her complex identity as she seeks to untangle years of secrets to find her place in the world. A moving, beautifully written, and delicately constructed story of love, division, transcendence, history, and eco-consciousness, The Island of Missing Trees is Elif Shafak's best work yet." --

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Book description
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE 2022
A REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB PICK
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA NOVEL AWARD 2021

A rich, magical new novel from the Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World - now a top 10 Sunday Times bestseller

Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. The taverna is the only place that Kostas and Defne can meet in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic and chilli peppers, creeping honeysuckle, and in the centre, growing through a cavity in the roof, a fig tree. The fig tree witnesses their hushed, happy meetings; their silent, surreptitious departures. The fig tree is there, too, when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns - a botanist, looking for native species - looking, really, for Defne. The two lovers return to the taverna to take a clipping from the fig tree and smuggle it into their suitcase, bound for London. Years later, the fig tree in the garden is their daughter Ada's only knowledge of a home she has never visited, as she seeks to untangle years of secrets and silence, and find her place in the world.

The Island of Missing Trees is a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal, from the Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World.
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