Saturday 7 August 2021

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The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak    {Reviewed by STELLA}
A man is burying a tree to protect it from the winter months in a north London backyard. A sixteen-year-old stands up and opens her mouth to express herself in history class only to let out a scream of grief and frustration. A woman is flying to a cold country to help her niece and find solace after her sister’s death. An olive tree. A girl of Turkish and Greek descent who has never stepped on the soil of her parent's homeland. An aunt who is the door to family and history, a link to the past and secrets. When two young people meet in Cyprus, one Greek, the other Turkish, the troubles that will arise in 1974, and the chasm it will cause between them, are far from their minds. Intent on meeting and spending time together, Kostas and Defne, finding a place away from the prying eyes of their families is their only concern. A taverna away from the village is the perfect place. Here, in the courtyard, is a witness to their love: an olive tree. Elif Shafak never cringes away from hard subjects. In her novel, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, she portrayed the lives of women in Turkey, particularly the poor and the underprivileged, in a novel about the murder of a prostitute taking a deep dive into her life through the clever mechanism of the last minutes of her life, taking us back to her childhood and her path to where she ended. The Island of Missing Trees is an evenhanded portrayal of tragedy in this island nation through the eyes of a bereaved man and his daughter, Ada, surrounded by secrets, and an olive tree. The use of the olive tree as a witness may sound fanciful, but in the hands of Shafak, it works by connecting the natural world with the human history of this place, and this olive tree is a beautiful storyteller of love, longing and redemption. Like the tree, Kostas has been transplanted. After his brother is killed, his mother sends him away to England for safety. Little does Kostas know it will be years before he can return and reunite with Defne. In the time he is away, the island changes, his friends at the Taverna have disappeared, it's harder than he imagined to pick up where he left off. His love of nature inspires him to take a cutting from the olive tree at the Taverna, now sick and uncared for, hoping he can bring a little something of his past to life again. Defne finally agrees to join him in England, but her road of new beginnings is rockier and she is unable to let go of the past and a secret that haunts her. After her death, her sister comes to London to connect with Ada and broker a peace with Kostas. Bringing her Turkish culture and island history with her, she opens doors to the past. A past which Kostas will have to face — one of personal, as well as historical, tragedy. A past that will help Ada connect with her own complex heritage and find a sense of belonging. The Island of Missing Trees is a love story, an ode to the power of nature and the memory of trees, an unwavering look at a confrontation (which continues to flare up) and the ways in which land absorbs tragedy, a warning about the power of untold secrets and the ability to survive them, and a reminder to take the best of who you are, culturally, emotionally and politically, to enable you to walk forward and chose a better path. 

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