BookBrowse Reviews The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Island of Missing Trees

A Novel

by Elif Shafak

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak X
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Nov 2021, 368 pages

    Feb 2023, 368 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Noshin Bokth
Buy This Book

About this Book



In this resonant novel, the tumultuous history of Cyprus is viewed through the lens of one family's trauma.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak tells a tale of generational trauma, explores identity and pays homage to the natural world in prose so lyrical it melts into your very spirit. Oscillating between past and present, the narrative is split between the ruminations of a fig tree; the love story of a Greek Cypriot, Kostas, and Turkish Cypriot, Defne, in 1974 Cyprus; and the mourning of the lovers' 16-year-old daughter, Ada Kazantakis, in London in the 2010s after the death of her mother. The story is not told linearly, rather, much like reality, the pieces arrive in distinct moments that eventually coalesce into the truth. The torrid romance of Kostas and Defne reveals the trauma wrought by ethnic strife and colonialism across generations, on humans and on ecosystems throughout the world. Their story humbles the reader, shedding light on our dependency on the planet we inhabit and the consequences of tribal warfare.

Kostas and Defne are both Cypriots, and yet they are different from one another, in that one is Turkish and the other Greek. Aware of the violent opposition that would arise should their families and fellow islanders learn of their forbidden affair, they carry out their meetings clandestinely with the help of the owners of a local tavern, The Happy Fig. Here, their youthful passions blossom under the shadow of mounting tensions and an observant fig tree, which grows through the center of the bar. During their budding romance, the catastrophic events of the 1974 Cypriot Civil War are imminent. All the while, the fig tree bears witness to the lovers and the events unfolding around them. Escaping the plight of their little island, Kostas and Defne migrate to London, leaving familial discord in their wake. They choose to shelter their daughter, Ada, from the violence of their pasts. This surreptitiousness complicates Ada's grief, and the death of her mother ultimately uproots the past that has shaped her familial circumstances.

The choice to give voice to a fig tree provides a mystical element that is reminiscent of a fable, but Shafak's effortless prose truly makes this character seem human. Through the tree's musings, we are inundated with the reality of the natural world. She tells us about the essential roles fruit bats play in the environment, and the complex journey of bees and the flora they coexist with. It seems like it would be out of place to cite technical and scientific information within a novel, but these facts daze the reader into thoughtful introspection on the smallness of our beings. Despite history being replete with men believing all other creatures submit to them, it is we who are subservient to nature. The fig tree reminds us that, "Humans walk by us every day, they sit, and sleep, smoke and picnic in our shade, they pluck our leaves and gorge themselves on our fruit…and yet they still do not see us." But despite the destruction humans have brought upon her world, the gorgeous tree is filled with empathy for us, and concern for the sorrow of Kostas. Her voice feels phantasmic behind the story of the Kazantaki family. She has witnessed the most intimate of human moments and the most bestial of human actions. The reader will be haunted by the sense that the natural world stands judicially sentient among us.

Shafak forces the reader to confront the violence and trauma that Ada's parents hoped to protect her from. But without such honest reckoning, justice for the land and its inhabitants is a meek and distant dream. We cannot neglect the very earth that protects the dead that we mourn. Through the eyes of this arboreal being, the ramifications of rapacious leaders, colonialism and divisive partitions are unobscured. We come to understand that all forms of life are inextricably intertwined and when one link is poisoned, the rest will dwindle slowly and painfully. When a tree and migrant are uprooted from their homes, this trauma becomes indelible upon their offspring. In spite of Ada's parents' best efforts to raise her without the cloud of their past, it follows her insidiously. Only when the truth is revealed does she find a melancholic respite. The Island of Missing Trees is far more than a prosaic love story. It is a tribute to ecosystems everywhere and their resilience in the face of utter devastation.

Reviewed by Noshin Bokth

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2021, and has been updated for the March 2023 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Island of Missing Trees, try these:

  • The Colony jacket

    The Colony

    by Audrey Magee

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    In 1979, as violence erupts all over Ireland, two outsiders travel to a small island off the west coast in search of their own answers, despite what it may cost the islanders.

  • Swimming Back to Trout River jacket

    Swimming Back to Trout River

    by Linda Rui Feng

    Published 2022

    About this book

    A lyrical novel set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution that follows a father's quest to reunite his family before his precocious daughter's momentous birthday, which Garth Greenwell calls "one of the most beautiful debuts I've read in years."

We have 4 read-alikes for The Island of Missing Trees, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Elif Shafak
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...
  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...
  • Book Jacket: The West
    The West
    by Naoíse Mac Sweeney
    It's become common for history books and courses to reconsider the emphasis on "Western Civilization...
  • Book Jacket
    A Death in Denmark
    by Amulya Malladi
    Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.