The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (book review) – about figs, humans, and other stories

The Island of Missing Trees was recommended as a “must read” by my dear friend Diana. Until now, all her recommendations became favourite books … so I knew I have to read is as soon as possible.

Plus, Elif Shafak is one of my favourite writers ever, alongside Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami. I read 5 of her books and enjoyed loved all of them – starting from Three Daughters of Eve, The Forty Rules of Love (my review), Honour, 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World, and of course – The Island of Missing Trees.

The Island of Missing Trees in a nutshell

The Island of Missing Trees tells several beautifully interwoven stories. In Cyprus, there’s the love story between Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim. In the UK, there’s the story of Ada, daughter of Kostas and Defne, who has never visited Cyprus, the island where her parents were born. And of course, there’s the story of the fig tree. The magic fig tree.

What do these stories have in common? Well, they are all shaped by the island’s political turmoil and the scars left by the 1974 conflict that divided the island. Yes, even the fig tree is impacted by it!

My overall impression

I simply loved reading The Island of Missing Trees! It’s definitely my favourite book from the ones I read by Shafak so far. It is a super captivating and touching story, with alternating viewpoints – humans and trees – that allow multiple timelines to unravel smoothly.

It’s a book about love and loss, cultural inheritance and political conflicts, fear and hope. Plus there’s a certain flavour of magic that surrounds the narration …

My favourite character – the fig tree

The fig tree is a real character of the book – gotta’ love Shafak for this marvellous idea! Actually, the interventions of the fig tree are the most subtle parts of the book, like a delicate narrator bringing out the true essence of the story.

While reading some sections of the book, about communities of trees and communication using their roots, I was reminded of another amazing book – The Ovestory by Richard Powers (my review). The way both Elif Shafak and Richard Powers brought to the larger public the recent scientific discoveries about trees is worth to be appreciated!

The overlooked victims of conflicts

When we think of war, we usually think of the impact it has on people – those fighting, emigrating, suffering. But how about the other vital parts of our ecosystem – the animals and plants – aren’t they also highly impacted by the political fights of humans?

The Island of Missing Trees brings to focus how century-old trees, living much longer than people, are observers but also victims of the atrocities that humans do to each other. Some trees are lucky – just as people emigrate, so trees can be re-rooted to other places.


As I am sure you already got the message that I recommend this book, I would like skip my personal conclusion and end with my favourite section from the book:

“For wisdom, try a beech; for intelligence, a pine; for bravery, a rowan; for generosity, a hazel; for joy, a juniper; and for when you need to learn to let go of what you cannot control, a birch with its white-silver bark, peeling and shedding layers like old skins. Then again, if it’s love you’re after, or love you have lost, come to the fig, always the fig.”

If you would like to buy this book (or any other bookish things), please consider using one of these links: Amazon | Waterstones | Carturesti. Thank you!

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‘Till next time … happy reading!


5 thoughts on “The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (book review) – about figs, humans, and other stories

  1. Wonderful review, and I definitely want to read this book! I started The Architect’s Apprentice by Shafak, but I lost interest partway through – something about the historical setting and characters was not gelling for me. This one sounds amazing, though. It doesn’t hurt that I love trees (and figs).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy to hear you would like to read The Island of Missing Trees! 🙂

      Haven’t read The Architect’s Apprentice yet, but I can empathize with your feelings – when I think of The Forty Rules of Love, it also had quite a lot of historical and philosophical setting (for my own reading preferences), but fortunately there were other sides of the story that kept me more engaged.

      The Island of Missing Trees also has some historical background, however it is quite in the background compared to the other parts of the book. I hope you’ll enjoy it!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have huge admiration for Elif Shafak, but always feel vaguely dissatisfied after reading her fiction. I will try again with this one, for sure, especially as I have just finished The Bell Jar and am now slightly obsessed with figs!

    Liked by 1 person

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