The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak - review by Aida Amoako

Aida Amoako

Lifting the Fig Leaf

The Island of Missing Trees


Viking 368pp £14.99

‘A tree is a memory keeper,’ says the fig tree that, in a wonderful rebuke to anthropocentric storytelling, serves as one of the narrators in Elif Shafak’s extraordinary new novel about grief, love and memory. Grown from a cutting rescued from the ruins of a bar in Cyprus, the fig tree in the Kazantzakis family’s garden serves as a catalyst for increasingly empathetic exchanges between scientist Kostas and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Ada, who are grieving, in their own
ways, the loss of Defne, wife and mother to each respectively. The book deftly jumps between the rising ethnopolitical tension and the breakout of civil war in Cyprus in 1974, when Defne and Kostas – a Turkish Muslim and a Greek Christian – first fall in love, and the late 2010s, when Kostas and Ada interrogate their own relationships with Cypriot cultural identity and family history. For Shafak, what is held on to or left behind – not just by individuals but also by different
generations – is integral to the identities of immigrants and exiles, who ‘carry the shadow of another land’ with them. It’s a tension

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