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Tuesday, November 16, 2021


(Shafak turns the mundaneness of everyday life into something magical and mesmerising, which is pure literary alchemy. Review by Stephanie Millar)

The BBC named her 2009 novel, The Forty Rules of Love, one of the 100 Novels that Shaped Our World; and in 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the 12 people “who will give you a much-needed lift of the heart”.

Elif Shafak is a multi-award-winning, best-selling British-Turkish novelist, with 19 published books to her name, 12 of which are novels, including her latest work, The Island of Missing Trees - a title that perfectly showcases her talents as world-shaper and soul-booster.

The Island of Missing Trees is set across both London and Cyprus and is told from multiple perspectives, each as captivating as the next. We’re introduced to Ada at the start – a British teenage girl, her story set in the late 2010s. We’re also transported back a few decades to 1970s Cyprus where we follow the star-crossed love story of Ada’s parents – her Turkish-Muslim mother, Defne, and her Greek-Christian father, Koustas.

Koustas and Defne’s love story is set in Cyprus where it straddles both idyllic and war-torn Cyprus. Regardless of the catastrophes she sheds light on, Shafak’s portrayal of the island leaves you longing to visit. But Meryem, Ada’s maternal aunt, said it best: “All the tourists who come to the Mediterranean on holiday, they want the sand and the sea and the fried calamari. But no history, please, it’s depressing.” Her indelicate wisdom adds a refreshing hint of humour to the novel.

And then there’s the silent observer whose story is woven throughout: the fig tree.

While it’s easy to feel perplexed – and maybe even patronised - by the introduction of the tree’s voice, you soon start to value the insights and background it contributes to the story. These passages can easily be skipped, though. Paired with the fig tree’s voice is Koustas’ genuine love for, and gentle approach to trees and nature. It’s this contagious aspect of his character that leaves the reader developing a new and heightened empathy for the world – from the most majestic of trees to the tiniest of termites.

As enthralling and whimsical as the book is, there are several jarring passages that see Shafak’s journalistic tone comes through in her commentaries on the state of the world. But overall, it’s a novel that beautifully explores finding your identity through unearthing your family history; the healing that finally emerges after living a trauma; and the tenacity of love, both romantic and familial.

If you’re after the faultless novel, you might find this is not it. But what The Island of Missing Trees lacks in perfection, it more than makes up for in undiluted empathy. Shafak turns the mundaneness of everyday life into something magical and mesmerising, which is pure literary alchemy. - Stephanie Millar

The Island of Missing Trees is published by Viking. Recommended Price R330.00. ISBN 9780241434994