Teens Kostas and Defne—a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot—meet at a taverna on the island they both call home and grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig tree bears witness to their secret assignations as well as to the war that breaks out around them—the capital reduced to ashes and the teenagers vanished. Years later, they struggle to make sense of their troubled history.
American readers unfamiliar with the tumultuous history of Cyprus will appreciate how gracefully Shafak folds in details about the violence that swept across the island nation in the second half of the 20th century. But this is not a novel about the cataclysms that reshape nations; it’s about how those disasters recast ordinary lives ... isn’t just a cleverly constructed novel; it’s explicitly about the way stories are constructed, the way meaning is created, and the way devotion persists. Without snarling readers in a thicket of confusion — don’t worry, each chapter is clearly dated — Shafak involves us in the task of assembling these events ... Yes, it’s an odd conceit, particularly whimsical for a novel that explores such painful material, but not surprising from Shafak. As an author, she’s that rare alchemist who can mix grains of tragedy and delight without diminishing the savor of either. The results may sometimes feel surreal, but this technique allows her to capture the impossibly strange events of real life ... Near the end, Kostas’s precious tree tells us, 'If it’s love you’re after, or love you have lost, come to the fig, always the fig.' This novel offers the same invitation — and the same reward.
This is a wonderful novel. Normally one keeps this comment for the last line of the review, but I am so enthusiastic about The Island of Missing Trees that I want to put my cards on the table straightaway ... one of the most entertaining history lessons you have ever had ... Ada, perfectly drawn, experiences in-person and online bullying in her north London school in episodes that seem sadly realistic ... Although the novel is rich in themes, its backbone is how Ada comes to terms with the turbulent history of her ancestral island and her own parents , and she could be classified as the main protagonist. The character who steals the show, however, is definitely the fig tree ... Generally I am suspicious of anthropomorphised animals or things in contemporary fiction. They can be tricksy devices cloaking paucity of original thought. Not so here ... All the characters in the novel are just as strongly drawn ... This is fiction at its best.
... a strong and enthralling work; its world of superstition, natural beauty and harsh tribal loyalties becomes your world. Its dense mazes of memory make you set aside your own. It blurs the boundaries between history and natural history in profound and original ways ... War and love and violence are daringly mixed in this novel ... Shafak...writes with great control about despair ... The push and pull of teenage emotion is also captured with precision. We see Ada’s thinking mature, experiencing her shifts in perception incrementally. Resisting the urge to simplify or judge is a recurring theme ... a complex and powerful work in which the harrowing material settles on the reader delicately.