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Book Review

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Penguin, £8.99)

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Penguin, £8.99) was Five Leaves’ best selling fiction novel last year. Have you read it?
I was mixed about it. If I were to say that one of the main characters in the book was a fig tree that might put you off. It would have put me off, but I went with the flow.
The fig tree in question lived in Cyprus, originally, but was transplanted to a north London suburb by Kostas, a Greek in exile from home.
There he had a youthful relationship with Defne, a Turkish woman, both crossing the boundaries of their ethnic groups, secretly meeting in a tavern run by another couple, who had their own secret. They were gay men. The fig tree was a feature of the taverna, and it had its own views and internal life and its own perspective on the relationship between trees and humans.
Of course it all goes wrong. The conflict between the Greek and Turkish community ends the relationship. And the gay men are… well, spoiler alert, what so often happens in fiction?
Years on, Kosta returns to Cyprus for a conference – trees are, not surprisingly, his special acadamic interest. There he meets Defne again, working to find the graves of the disappeared in the conflict. There is more in their past that they need to revisit than he knew.
This is starting to read like a blurb, but it would be too easy to give more spoilers.
Island of Missing Trees is written as popular fiction, and is in serious need of an editor to get rid of some of the cliched writing. But Shafak tells a good story, and the fate of other characters drew me back to look up the half forgotten but vicious conflict that has kept the island divided.
A companion book if you want to read further is Nicosia Beyond Borders: voices from a divided city (Saqi, £12.99), with pieces by writers on both sides of the last city in Europe that remains divided.

Ross Bradshaw

1 thought on “The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Penguin, £8.99)

  1. Dear Ross
    Sorry to take a week to respond. I’m only an occasional visitor to your city and your shop (but I do buy family Christmas books from you…).
    In this house, we both enjoyed this book. As oldies, we’re aware of the depth of the division – right since the Makarios days.
    Did you know that the novel was long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award with the most library nominations this year? “..Missing Trees” was nominated by four libraries from Italy, Portugal, Scotland (Glasgow), and Belgium. The only other novel to receive four nominations was Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” but all of her nominations were from libraries in Ireland so perhaps Shafak was the ‘winner’ in this respect. We also loved Keegan’s novel with its REAL hero!
    I have ‘spare’ copies of the full DLA long-list and short-list brochures (highly desirable!) and would be pleased to stick them in the post to you, if you think they would be useful “next to the till”.

    The UK had only three nominating libraries this year. I’ve been trying to get Lincolnshire Library Service to become involved but without much luck. Perhaps the City of Nottingham Library would be interested? – UNESCO City of Literature? Please let me know if you think I should investigate that.
    We’ve thought of the city and its people a lot since last Tuesday and can only say that we wish you all well.
    Sorry if this is tedious.
    Bob Mortimer

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