The Island Of Missing Trees By Elif Shafak
Award-winning author Elif Shafak writes a beautiful, rich encounter of two teenagers who require a forbidden love for one another. She is best known for titles such as The Bastard of Istanbul & 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds In This Strange World. Shafak is an advocate for women's rights, LGBT rights & freedom of speech which some issues are reflected in her fiction.
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.
This book was absolutely magical to read from start to finish. Reese Witherspoon posted a meal idea based on Where The Crawdads Sing; it would be a stroke of genius if Shafak were to issue a recepie book based on this if not all her books. The description of each meal made you taste it with every taste bud going.
The premise of the plot is a prism of hope, loss & healing through the themes of gardening, food, love & family. The fig represents loss & love with elements of climate. You could argue Kostas is holding onto his grief through the tree by nurturing it - in the most educating way - like it's the last memory or Ada's mother. What the family don't see is the sense of loss of relationship between each family member present in the novel. The tree has seen things historically and presently. As the tree has seen many points of history throughout it's life, Shafak rips open the wounds that scar our pasts. There was always a sense of foreshadowing doom heading towards Ada's parents. The tree recognises this time suggesting it is not only humans who suffer. The world's climate has changed dramatically over a lifetime where other trees have been lost among the way. The tree and the family unite through migration, determination & worry but like humans nature can too be resilient.
As for character development, Ada is coming of age. The beginning of the book explores who she is as a young lady & how she controls her emotions. Naturally, she takes out her anger on peers or family but she too starts to discover prejudice attitudes in a more controlled environment like school. Throughout the story, she discovers the mysteries that lie between both sides of her family making her cautious to absorb all the knowledge, leading her back to the fig tree. In some respects, this shows how fearless the next generation can be. They have a nature to dig up the past having the notion that they are not afraid to confront what is in front of them. In other views, you could say they don't think of the environment in a way their ancestors would but that's an argument for another day.
Shafak has written one of her finest books so far. Each chapter is beautifully canvased into a colourful, imaginative & defined piece of prose..