Elif Shafak is a renowned Turkish-British author known for her captivating storytelling, rich characters, and exploration of diverse themes. Her own multicultural background has been a huge influence on her works. Shafak is known to skillfully tackle topics like identity, freedom of speech, feminism, religion, and social challenges. Aside from books, Shafak also advocates her views through TED Talks, public discussions, and debates.

Shafak’s works have gained international acclaim and have been translated into multiple languages. Her notable works include The Bastard of Istanbul, which addresses history through the Armenian genocide; Honour, which explores themes like love, tradition, and honor killings; Three Daughters of Eve, which delves into faith and feminism; and The Forty Rules of Love, a mystical and spiritual exploration of love through the lens of Rumi and Shams.

Shafak’s writing style stands out for its lyrical prose, vivid imagery, and a remarkable ability to seamlessly interweave different narratives and timelines. She employs magical realism and multiple perspectives to provide a multifaceted view of the world.


The Island of Missing Trees takes readers on a captivating journey that transcends different eras and locations while exploring themes such as love, war, identity, resilience, and rediscovering one’s roots. The story unfolds across 1974 Cyprus, the early 2000s Cyprus, and the late 2010s London.

From different backgrounds in Cyprus in 1974, Kostas and Defne navigate a forbidden romance amidst the escalating conflict between the Greeks and Turks. The Happy Fig, a tavern run by a gay couple, serves as their secret meeting spot. Tragedy strikes, forcing Kostas to flee to London as Defne stays back and experiences the horrors of the conflict first-hand.

In the early 2000s, Kostas, now a successful scientist, returns to Cyprus seeking closure. He reunites with Defne, who became an archaeologist. The two marry despite familial disapproval, symbolizing their undying commitment to each other. They visit the decaying remnants of The Happy Fig and salvage a cutting from the withered tree as a symbol of their enduring love.

In the late 2010s, Defne is no more after a prolonged struggle with depression and alcoholism. Her demise strains the relationship between Kostas and their daughter, Ada. Yearning to connect with her heritage, Ada delves into the history of both her family and Cyprus. With guidance from her aunt Meryam, Ada rebuilds her connection with her roots through food and language. This ultimately helps mend her bond with Kostas.

Throughout the book, the fig tree serves as a parallel narrator, observing the events from The Happy Fig. It bears witness to forbidden love, separation, the tragic fate of the gay couple, Defne’s struggles, and the city’s transformation. The tree also accompanies Kostas and Defne to London. It grows alongside Ada, endures Defne’s suffering, and embodies the challenges of making a foreign land one’s home. The story also delves into the ecosystem, exploring the sentient nature of trees, their interconnections, and the transfer of knowledge and information.


The Island of Missing Trees stands out for its symbolism. The fig tree is the biggest example of this imagery as it exemplifies cultural roots and resilience. The mythological and botanical importance of the tree helps deepen readers’ understanding of displacement beyond man’s blinkered perspective.


The book encompasses a wide range of emotions, scientific facts, magical realism, and the horrors of war. Some readers may find these elements too elaborate a distraction from the main story.


that is what migrations and relocations do to us: when you leave your home for unknown shores, you don’t simply carry on as before; a part of you dies inside so that another part can start all over again.

I wish I could have told him that loneliness is a human invention. Trees are never lonely. Humans think they know with certainty where there being ends and someone else’s starts. With there roots tangled and caught up underground, linked to fungi and bacteria, trees harbour no such illusions. For us, everything is interconnected.

To immigrants and exiles everywhere,
the uprooted, the re-rooted, the rootless,
And to the trees we left behind,
rooted in our memories …


Ameya Score:

The Island of Missing Trees is a must-read not just for those interested in the Hiraeth genre, but for anyone who wishes to understand the tragedy of war and displacement. The book is especially relevant in our times, as more and more people discuss issues such as emigration and the refugee crisis.

…now that you’re here

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Madhu book review writer at Ameya

A reverential admirer of words, Madhu loves watching them weave their bewitching magic on cozy afternoons.