Elif Shafak: The Island of Missing Trees

October 12, 2021

“You don’t fall in love in the midst of a civil war, when you are hemmed in by carnage and by hatred on all sides… You don’t lose your heart at a time when hearts are supposed to remain sealed, especially for those who are not of your religion, not of your language, not of your blood. You don’t fall in love in Cyprus in the summer of 1974… and yet there they were…”

Yes, this novel is about a love that blossomed in Cyprus. A forbidden love between a Greek boy and a Turkish girl in that island country that cradles Nicosia, the only divided capital in the world — split between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

But if you have been reading the author for some time, you know that she transcends her pretty book covers, and usually gives voice to those who do not have any, and calls attention to an abundance of topics and pressing issues; and you get the inkling that it cannot be entirely about love.

Aside from being delighted that a favorite poem of mine, Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy, features significantly in the story, this novel moved me so much more than I thought it would. I feel that this is where Elif Shafak has achieved a balance of the elements: culture, tradition, superstition, history, loss, grief, relationships, home, migrations, nationalism, violence, fear, mental health, feminism, eco-consciousness, intergenerational memory and trauma, inherited pain, the histories and stories in families that affect the next generation… 

Matters seemingly impenetrable to language, and yet they are carried out — narrated by a fig tree! 

Naturally, a fig tree. Can it possibly be Elif Shafak without the whimsy? And yet this is a wise fig tree who might, at length, aid the reader in understanding… what these Ithakas mean.

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