The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak | Book Review

‘Where do you start someone’s story when every life has more than one thread and what we call birth is not the only beginning, nor is death exactly an end?’

‘People on both sides of the island [Cyprus] suffered – and people on both sides would hate it if you said that aloud. Why? Because the past is dark, distorted mirror. You look at it, you only see your own pain. There is no room in there for someone else’s pain’.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak set in the 1970’s Cyprus and contemporary London of 2010’s is a tale narrated partly by a fig tree, partly by humans about the transgeneretional trauma,  the burden of the past on the current and future generations when it comes to dealing with wars, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, enforced borders drawn on a piece of paper at one time in history and how it affects the lives of the future generations. 

Elif Shafak has created a beautiful tale of wonder and nostalgia, pointing out to the connections between the past, present, and future as well as between the physical and the spiritual. It is also a profoundly moving ode to the natural world: world of non-human animals and plants. 

‘Sometimes family trauma skips a generation altogether and redoubles its hold on the following one. You may encounter grandchildren who silently shoulder the hurts and sufferings of their grandparents’

The author weaves together a stunning story full of the references to both Turkish and Greek Cypriot cultures which connects the destruction of a natural world to the destruction caused by the human ego, hatred. 

The meaning of ‘home’, migration, memory, stories in our lives, being uprooted or rootless, human rights versus animal rights especially during the times of war, fanaticism, nationalism, the passage of time, sensitivity treated often as a curse among many cultures rather than a noble virtue, the suffering on both sides of the conflict based on the past events in the 1970’s Cyprus, also constitute a part of this novel’s diverse topicality.

The Island of Missing Trees offers an in-depth exploration of one the most painful consequences of every conflict: missing persons. There are reference not only to Cyprus, but also to the past events in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, the Spanish Civil War, the Nuremberg trials, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia. When it comes to the darkest chapters of the history, the similarities can be found everywhere, regardless of the place and time. 

 The difference between those who left  and did not live through the conflict, and those who were left behind  is also discussed at length; open wounds of the runaways and the pain of those who experienced death and suffering in all its forms first-hand.

The novel offers such an interesting focus on animals who are always badly affected by human activities and particularly during the times of war their suffering is often disregarded. 

Writing is very sublime, lyrical and the variety of topics put together is a real feat for book lovers. I highly recommend this book. 

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