Reviews of The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

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
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  • Published:
    Nov 2021, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Noshin Bokth
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About this Book

Book Summary

A rich, magical new novel on belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal, from the Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World.

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.

A moving, beautifully written, and delicately constructed story of love, division, transcendence, history, and eco-consciousness, The Island of Missing Trees is Elif Shafak's best work yet.


Once upon a memory, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, there lay an island so beautiful and blue that the many travellers, pilgrims, crusaders and merchants who fell in love with it either wanted never to leave or tried to tow it with hemp ropes all the way back to their own countries.

Legends, perhaps.

But legends are there to tell us what history has forgotten.

It has been many years since I fled that place on board a plane, inside a suitcase made of soft black leather, never to return. I have since adopted another land, England, where I have grown and thrived, but not a single day passes that I do not yearn to be back. Home. Motherland.

It must still be there where I left it, rising and sinking with the waves that break and foam upon its rugged coastline. At the crossroads of three continents– Europe, Africa, Asia—and the Levant, that vast and impenetrable region, vanished entirely from the maps of today.

A map is a two-dimensional representation ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When Ada says she felt possessed during her outburst in school, Meryem jumps at the chance to dispel whatever djinn could have invaded Ada's spirit. But Ada, like her mother, is unconvinced by traditional methods. Meryem, defeated, suggests, "Maybe we give other names to grief because we are too scared to call it by its name" (247). Explore how grief appears throughout the book. What or who does each character grieve? How is grief expressed in nontraditional ways? Do you agree with Meryem? And if so, what is so frightening about admitting that we are grieving?
  2. Throughout the novel, butterflies appear as a recurring symbol. Butterflies are engraved on the box that Kostas gives to Defne as a token of his love, Ada doodles them ...
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BookBrowse Review


The choice to give voice to a fig tree provides a mystical element that is reminiscent of a fable. But her effortless prose truly makes the fig tree seem human, so the reader will often forget that the narrator is a tree. Through the tree's musings, we are inundated with the reality of the natural world. 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...continued

Full Review Members Only (722 words).

(Reviewed by Noshin Bokth).

Media Reviews

Harper's Magazine
A commentary on the bitter legacy of war .... [and] also a commentary on the folly of our adversarial relationship with nature and our refusal to learn from the flora and fauna with which we share the planet … the scope of her thematic ambition is impressive, and [Shafak] is a compelling storyteller. She writes as well about teenage irascibility as about profound human suffering, and, like the wise fig tree, understands the interconnectedness of all things great and small.

A beautiful contemplation of some of life's biggest questions about identity, history and meaning.

Booklist (starred review)
[A}n enthralling, historically revelatory, ecologically radiant, and emotionally lush tale of loss and renewal.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Booker-shortlisted Shafak amazes with this resonant story of the generational trauma of the Cypriot Civil War...Shafak's fans are in for a treat, and those new to her will be eager to discover her earlier work.

Kirkus Reviews
Shafak explores the physical, psychological, and moral cost of the long conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the island's citizens and their environment, [and] exhibits her passion for an endangered natural world that possesses wisdom the human world lacks...Ambitious, thought-provoking, and poignant.

Author Blurb David Mitchell, author of Utopia Avenue
A wise novel of love and grief, roots and branches, displacement and home, faith and belief. Balm for our bruised times.

Author Blurb Robert McFarlane, author of Underland
Trees, here, grow through the lives of these unforgettable characters, becoming bearers of memory, makers of metaphor and witnesses to atrocity. Shafak has written a brilliant novel - one that rings with her characteristic compassion for the overlooked and the under-loved, for those whom history has exiled, excluded or separated. I know it will move many readers around the world, as it moved me.

Reader Reviews


As Told By A Fig Tree…
The Island of Missing Trees is undoubtedly one of my lifetime favorites. Cyprus, is an island divided, in turmoil, and people and nature alike are suffering years of unrest, escalating violence and the atrocities of an ethnic war. Cultural clashes, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Colonialism's Ecological Damage in Cyprus

Paphos Forest in Cyprus featuring trees and a bridge over a streamIn Elif Shafak's The Island of Missing Trees, Kostas, one of the protagonists, can be described as having an intimate love affair with nature. The other characters, including Kostas's daughter, are often puzzled by his eccentric passion for the Earth and the creatures we share it with. Kostas grew up on the island of Cyprus, and he witnessed the growing tension between Greek and Turkish residents right before the 1974 civil war. Years of ethnic strife and colonialism have left indelible imprints upon the island. War evokes melancholy for human loss and suffering, yet we seldom consider and mourn the ecological devastation it inevitably causes. However, Kostas sees the Earth and its trees as inextricable to life. He gives the multitude of ...

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