The Island of Missing Trees

Title:The Island Of Missing Trees

Writer: Elif Shafak

Publishing House: Viking

Date of Publication: August 5th 2021 

Rating: 5 stars

“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.”

The scent of gardenia, cyclamen, lavender, honeysuckle. A story full of flowers, their beauty and essence and fragility. Birds, the symbols of escape and freedom. Cicadas, bees and butterflies. Images of beauty and togetherness, violently torn by the evil doings of an obsessive, barbaric minority. And why is it that the few always see their work done and the many suffer? History hasn’t found the answer yet. And if she has, she has kept it under lock and key for millennia.

“There are many things that a border – even one as clear- cut and well- guarded as this – cannot prevent from crossing. The Etesian wind, for instance, the softly named but surprisingly strong meltemi or meltem. The butterflies, grasshoppers and lizards. The snails, too, painfully slow though they are. Occasionally, a birthday balloon that escapes a child’s grip, drifts in the sky, strays into the other side – enemy territory.”

People coexist in peace until the Devil is let loose. Wounds can’t be healed. Star-crossed lovers and children who pay the price. A daughter that detects people’s sadness. A rage that needs to be released, otherwise she will be smothered by her own feelings of screaming into the void, of not belonging anywhere. She will fall into the trap of despair created by a bunch of school brats that are in dire need of a) a serious punishment and b) lessons of respect. I thank God every day that our schools in Greece haven’t been touched by the curse of the VIP “students”, the cliques and the “squads” of future prostitutes and thugs.

“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, they break our branches, riding them like horses as children or using them to birch others into submission when they become older and crueller, they carve their lover’s name on our trunks and vow eternal love, they weave necklaces out of our needles and paint our flowers into art, they split us into logs to heat their homes and sometimes they chop us down just because we obstruct their view, they make cradles, wine corks, chewing gum and rustic furniture, and produce the most spellbinding music out of us, and they turn us into books in which they lose themselves on cold winter nights, they use our wood to manufacture coffins in which they end their lives, buried six feet under with us, and they even compose romantic poems to us, calling us the link between earth and sky, and yet still they do not see us.”

The bond between a father and a daughter. The love between two young people.The symbolism of the fig tree that lies in the heart of the Mediterranean. Wood is part of a human’s life and the home for so many species. And here, it is given voice. And what a voice this is!

A fig tree narrates its story, its love for a human being. It shows how important it is to  keep your culture and your roots alive in our modern world. But keeping your memories is another thing entirely for it may become a continuous torture. A curse.

There are numerous, exciting references to the customs of the two peoples of the land and Shafak presents them in sheer beauty. As far as the characters are concerned, Defne, Ada and Kostas are wonderful. Rich personalities, marvellously portrayed and developed, sympathetic, real. But, I loathed Meryem, excuse me.  Too much of a know-it-all chatterbox for my taste and quite stupid with her superstitious nonsense. All this talk of djinns, taking a child to an exorcist. How about buying some actual brains? And reading some BASIC history?Asking which side of Cyprus the child is going to visit first, preaching peace but being thoroughly consumed by her own narrow-mindness. She probably represents the uneducated, prejudiced, brain -washed part regardless of ethnicity or religion. And keep those “desserts”, they suck anyway… Also, Meryem, the Middle Ages have called. They want their attitude back.

The bitter conflict is approached with sensitivity and melancholy, but I will not refer to the historical or political implications. These are well-known and the Internet is not a place for such discussions. Not to mention the fact that it is a futile polemic, anyway. And to be honest, this is an issue where there can’t be “two” sides. An invasion IS an invasion and it cannot be sugar coated.

Moving Author’s Note. Exquisite!

If the beauty of Shafak’s writing doesn’t make you cry, you need Jesus.

“A map is a two- dimensional representation with arbitrary symbols and incised lines that decide who is to be our enemy and who is to be our friend, who deserves our love and who deserves our hatred and who, our sheer indifference.

Cartography is another name for stories told by winners.

For stories told by those who have lost, there isn’t one.”

Many thanks to Viking and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.


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