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.
I have stopped and restarted writing this review a few times since I finished it last month and I am still struggling to articulate how much I loved it. Do you ever feel like no matter how much you write or praise a book you loved, you just know it won’t do it enough justice?
The Island of Missing Trees was another book that took me back to Cyprus. After reading this and Songbirds, I have been thinking a lot about the beautiful island I called home for a year and how much I need to go back. I remember locals saying that Cypriots and Irish people were very similar; we are island folk with an incredibly dark and violent past. It is sad to say it is only after reading this book that I truly understand how connected we are and how dark Cyprus’ history is. The fact that so few people know about it is just insane and with everything happening in Afghanistan at the moment, it makes you wonder how these atrocities continue to happen.
This book is emotional, dark, atmospheric and will completely captivate you. It opens your eyes to the importance of family, friends and loyalty and how grief and loss can either tear these things apart or make them stronger.
Shafak’s writing is just fantastic. It is so poetic and flows in a way that makes the reader completely lose themselves in the story. I couldn’t tell you how many quotes I highlighted, I just found the way she summarised and captured certain things so beautiful. The different narratives with the fig tree and our protagonists were so well done and I loved how the tree’s narrative was so routed in story telling.
If you are a fan of historical fiction and books that really get under your skin and make you think, then you need to read this. It stuck with me the same way The Nightingale did and I would love to read it again for the first time.
A big thank you to NetGalley for letting me read it before it was published.
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
This was the hardest book to pick just one quote for, Shafak's writing is amazing and so poetic. So here are a few!
'Wherever there is war and a painful partition, there will be no winners, human or otherwise.'
'Perhaps in a world bound with rules and regulations that made little sense, and usually privileged a few over the many, madness was the only true freedom.'
'You don't share a language, you think, and then you realise, grief is a language. We understand each other, people with troubled pasts.'
'He asked cautiously, "And the missing you've found here, were they Greeks or Turks?" "They were Islanders. They were Islanders like us," she said.'
'And then they were silent once again, drifting back to the painful place they both shared but could only occupy separately.'
The fig tree, I know that technically isn't a character but whatever.