GENRE: Historical Fiction, Magic Realism
We’re they Greeks? Turks? They were islanders… like us.
I think this may have dethroned “Book Lovers” by Emily Henry as my favourite book of 2022; and with end of the year looming, I can say that with confidence. I approached this book with uncertainty and caution. There is a 400 dark history between Greeks and Turks. Formerly the Ottoman Empire, occupying and enslaving the Greeks, and its history is still felt to this day, especially on the island of Cyprus. Whenever I read something from Turkish creators, often times it is portrayed in a way that lies about the history, or glorifies what was done to Greece… I was so surprised and happy to read how Elif Shafak addressed the conflict, the people and the island itself; never really blaming one side of the other, but rather focusing on what unites the people. It is an idea that I have often held to heart of people not being their governments. The Turkish people are not their government or the choices that government has made. We are similar peoples, with shared traditions, shared foods, desserts, etc. and this story very much reflected the people themselves within a tremendous and sad conflict.
The story had so many layers to it that it is hard to break it down. I loved the stories of love and perseverance. Whether is be the love between Yussef and Giorgio; Defne and Kostas or the love of a Ficus carica (a fig tree). I loved the narration, either from the perspective of young Ada Kazantzakis or the Fig Tree herself. I loved how history was intertwined within the story. I loved how nature was alive and played an active roll in their lives; moving the story along in ways one might not have ever thought… Elif Shafak is an exceptional writer and story teller.
***Some Spoilers Below***
Not only that, but the story itself felt so deeply personal to me. There were so many details that I related to, although I doubt Shafak meant those things to be… like Kostas’ mother (Ada’s Grandmother) being named Panaghiota, how tough and resilient the woman was, and how she too, like my own grandmother Panaghiota, died of cancer… How she stayed tough til the very end, and not wanting to let those around her even know she had cancer… I miss my giagia so much, and this story, so similar to her own, left me feeling touched. Obviously, Shafak did not write this FOR me and my grandmother, she does not know us and probably never will; but it does feel like the universe almost gave me this. A small gift, just for me.
***End of Spoilers***
The Island of Missing Trees, left me with so many memorable quotes, and so many feelings, I am writing out this review and all I want to do is sit with these feelings. Someday this pain will be useful to you. I am in awe of this book, this story. If you are looking for a story to move you, this is a great choice.
NOTE: This novel took me quite a long time to get through, it is a very slow read, and at times I found myself not quite understanding WHY there were certain details and at times found myself to be a little bored… Understand that there is a reason for this, and I promise it all makes sense in the end.