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.