Cover Image: The Island of Missing Trees

The Island of Missing Trees

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Member Reviews

This is one of my top ten reads of 2021. Yes, because it’s historical fiction, yes, it’s about Cyprus, yes it’s about Turkish and Greek cultures, yes, the writing was beautiful, but more than anything else it was the Fig Tree that sealed my love of this book - oh, how I love thee Fig Tree! I won’t say more than that as I don’t want to spoil it for others. Suffice it to say Shafak does a phenomenal job as she unfolds the story of Defne, a Turkish Cypriot and Kostas, a Greek Cypriot set against the backdrop of Cyprus’ tumultuous history and strife, which continues today. The story is set in the 1970s, 2000s, and late 2010s with Cyprus and the U.K. as settings. This is beautifully accomplished novel by Elif Shafak. As she weaves the story of Defne and Kostas, Shafak interconnects  history, love, culture, conflict, nature, and the undeniable yearning and love of one’s motherland. Those strains are ever present throughout the book, which bring an  elegiac undercurrent that heightens the senses and connects the reader with the characters, including the Fig Tree. The impacts of one’s formative years and the memories of where you grew up are always with you no matter your age, time, and place, and Defne and Kostas are undoubtedly shaped by those years. This book is so much more than an historical fiction. Its depth, breadth, and connectedness to both the human spirit and to nature make it an excellent read and I would highly recommend it. I also enjoyed writing style very much - it is warm and lovely, especially when describing nature. A definite 5-star book. Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I'm obsessed with magical realism, and this was definitely right up my alley. Shafak's novel follows the story of a young couple in love in war-torn Cyprus in the 1970s and their teenage daughter being raised in 2000s London. The true beauty of this novel is that there are sections torn from the perspective of the fig tree (I know it sounds weird!) that makes its way from Cyprus to England with the family.

There were so many things to love about this book - the magical culture of the island, the insight into what happens when war takes over and people are left behind, how a young girl deals with grief. I absolutely loved the different perspectives and how the timeline skipped back and forth to reveal more details about the lives of the characters. The writing style is really mellifluous and truthful.

The only drawback for me was that the pacing was a little off - some parts of the book felt a tad slow even when the events described were exciting or important.

Overall, though, this book was creative and heartfelt. I loved the characters and was sad when the book was over!
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"People on both sides of the island suffered- and people on both sides would hate it if you said it out loud" "Why" "Because the past is a dark, distorted mirror. You look at it, you only see your own pain." 

I don't know how objective I can be in my review. I love Elif Shafak, I 've read my first book of hers "Mahrem- The Gaze" in college almost 20 years ago. When I first read the synopsis of the book I felt nervous because Cyprus is a controversial subject to write about. There is always a risk of upsetting one side or another. But Elif managed to write a beautiful and moving story about two star-crossed lovers from different ethnicity and religions and use the island as a background in such a magical way. As her author's note indicated "it is all fiction with a mixture of wonder, dreams, love and sorrow". But Shafak also provides a compassionate account of the partition of the Island.  At its core this is a story of love, loss, healing, identity, belonging and nature,  

Ada is the daughter of Kostas and Defne.  Respectively Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who have decided to leave their pasts behind and start anew in London. In 1974 right before the partition Kostas and Defne fall in love. They have to keep their relationship a secret. The only two people who are pulling for them are Yiorgos and Yusuf  (another Greek-Turkish couple) who ran the Happy Fig Tavern. The taverna gets its name from a fig tree planted in the center.

One of the narrator of the story is this melancholic fig tree. There is magical realism here. To be honest, in the the first few "Fig Tree" chapters I had trouble with how lyrical the storytelling was. Then I got used to it and really it is where her storytelling shines. 

The way Elif told the story through a fig tree, which had been carried all the way from Nicosia to London, is just brilliant. The tree hears and sees everything happening in the tavern but that is not his only source of information. She tells us the stories she heard from all the animals and insects she seduced with her ripe fruits. Droves of birds, bats, bees, ants, butterflies, mice... There is also so much love for nature and eco-consciousness in this book, 

All the little Turkish and  Greek words and phrases, the terms of endearment, sprinkled here and there made my heart happy. The parts where Elif showed the similarities in their customs, superstitions like the blue glass for evil eye and showing respect for a piece bread fallen on the pavement (for Turks it is picking up and touching it to their foreheads with reverence and for the Greeks, taking the slice and making the cross , putting their hands over their hearts) showed once again how much alike these communities are. This is an ongoing point of conversation between me and my Greek friend. 

This is a beautiful book written with gorgeous prose that I'll be recommending everyone.
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What an interesting story!  I honestly can’t think of anything to compare this to - it is that unique. It alternates timelines and locations exploring a forbidden relationship between a Greek and a Turk in the 70s to present day London. There is a love story, loss, cultural divisions, and at the very center of the story: a tree. The tree is one of the narrators in this beautiful, magical story.  This is the current pick for the Reese Witherspoon book club 

“Maybe we give other names to grief because we are too scared to call it by its name.”
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Well, this book was... different. Certainly some aspects - one of the narrators being a tree, for example - took some getting used to. I eventually got on board with the tree as a narrator, although at times some of the metaphors felt too heavy-handed. (For example, the traumas that plants endure compared to those that humans experience.) Overall though I liked the back-and-forth narrative style that alternated between the human characters and the fig tree, and how we got nonfiction-type information through the tree's narration. The author must have done a lot of research!

What frustrated me, though, was the way the author completely skipped the most interesting aspects of the story - the civil war in Cyprus! The best parts of this book were those that recounted Kostas' and Defne's love story in the 1970s. But suddenly we skip 25 years to them reuniting in the 2000s, completing skipping the meat of the conflict on the island, including everything Defne lived through. I was extremely disappointed not to get this part of the story! I also did not need so much of the setting of Ada in London in the 2010s, except keeping a bit of it to see the generational consequences of the conflict was important. Overall an ok read, but not one I enjoyed as much as Shafak's previous books.
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Elif Shafak does it again! I was completely moved by this book. It had me from page one and never let me go. If you love reading about found family or environmental issues this is a book you must pick up.
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The Island of Missing Trees was one of my very favorite novels this year. The story was very unique and unlike anything I have ever read. (I especially enjoyed the stories from the fig tree!) You know it’s great historical fiction, when you spend time googling to learn more once you finish the book. 

The story alternates timelines, which can be confusing in some books, but the author did such a good job transitioning between the stories. Also, the author’s imagery was some of the best I have ever read. I truly felt like I was apart of this story and I could visually see the island. I cannot wait to read more from this author!
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What a beautiful and moving book this is. Told in alternating narratives, one of which is a Fig Tree, you'll be swept away by this magical story of pain, loss, war, family, and most of all enduring love.

This was my first time reading a book by Elif Shafak, but it won't be my last. 

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for this ARC.
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The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafik is a beautiful story! After being in a bit of a reading slump, this story caught my attention and kept me wanting more! 

The storytelling by this author is so well done. I was able to sit down for extended periods of time to read this book. The words on the pages grabbed me and drew me in!  

This story is set in Cyprus and London with two different time periods. Ada is from London and is given an assignment to learn about her family’s past. However, she doesn’t know anything about it. This causes her to want to find out more information as she discovers who she really is and where she belongs. 

The fig tree’s narration is so heartwarming! It makes me want to talk to my Fiddle Leaf Fig and I’ve started thinking about all that my tree has witnessed (just like in the story). 

Im so thankful to the publisher and author for allowing me to have an ARC of this sweet story.

I highly recommend this book!
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𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐥𝐞𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐮𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐡𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 𝐡𝐚𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐨𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧.

The novel begins with the beautiful island of Cyprus ‘golden beaches and turquoise waters’, shadowed by a demarcation line. There is also a well, with a tragic story waiting to unfold, one of love that met with horror, a cruelty that time cannot hide forever. But we begin in the 2010s England, with a girl named Ada (Island) Kazantzakis, age sixteen. Ada’s mother Defne has passed away, leaving her alone with her eccentric father Kostas, an evolutionary ecologist and botanist who is far better with trees than people. She has little to no understanding of her parents past nor their lives on Cyprus and only a weak link to her relatives. With a Greek father and a Turkish mother, her looks stand out as foreign, but she is English, doesn’t even speak either of her parent’s language. She has never traveled to meet either side of the family nor has family ever visited them, not even for her beloved mother’s funeral. So much about her parents are a mystery, and how can she understand who she is without their history? Defne was her light, and now that she is gone, so much is dark. Her father has always seemed unsteady, fragile and Defne kept him centered. Ada knows only one thing, she cannot burden him with her sadness. She has buried her grief, but it will force its way to the surface, and in a humiliating scene in front of her peers.

Kostas is wrapped up in tending to a fig tree in their garden, and it is this beautiful fig that speaks to the reader. A descendant in a long line and an earthbound sentient being that understands the suffering of immigrants. If only Ada felt as connected as the fig, had a deeper understanding of how her parents arrived at the place they settled and made a family. She is a child born of division, her wound is now open for the world to see, and the exposure is unstoppable. It is when her Aunt Meryem, whom Ada is reluctant to accept, arrives that her mother’s history spills out and she begins connecting to her own roots. It is a story of forbidden love, and a special meeting place where burning hearts go to find shelter, happiness, and escape from violent reality. A place where Greeks, Turks, Armenians, UN soldiers, Maronites, and visitors break down barriers, share stories and become friends. This unique tavern is owned by two men who know all about division be it religion, love, family, country, culture or deeply guarded secrets. It is here that Kostas and Defne can tuck into their love openly. The men, Yiorgos and Yusuf, have created a place of celebration conceived for the purpose of triumph, joy, and small miracles. It touches many lives, and yet darkness is waiting to undo it all.

One cannot remain in a safe place, the world comes crashing in, decisions must be made and some are life or death. In choosing each other, Defne and Kostas have to promise to keep the weight of the past off their daughter’s shoulders. Naturally there are consequences, a child who has no story, no connection feels rootless, lost. She aches for her identity as much as she aches over the loss of her mother. It is a fate many face when leaving their homeland, particularly if they wish to cut ties with pain. You can reinvent yourself, but you can never fully discard the earlier selves, for we are formed by the places we have grown up in. How do we fit in with the people of our adopted country and what does the next generation make of the remnants of our past? At our core, humans long for their family history, for roots. This is such a sad story and yet overwhelming beautiful too. A fig tree as a symbol, rich in history- yes read it!

Publication Date: November 2, 2021

Bloomsbury USA
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Kostas who is Greek and Defne who is Turkish meet in Cypress and fall in love at a time when their relationship was not condoned and Cypress is on the verge of war. Later on we meet Ada their daughter who is struggling with death of Defne and just being a teenager in general.

This book told in alternate timelines tells a complex story of love, loss, war, addiction and identity to name a few. The writing is simply beautiful and I felt like I wanted to know this family and their struggles just a little more.

Note…this book did start a little slow for me, but I am personally glad I stuck with this one, because it was just one of the most beautiful stories I have read in a while. What happened in Cypress in the 1970’s is not something you read often about, so I was happy to read something a little more unique. Savor this one, it is sure to linger in the back of your mind a little longer than your typical story.

Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Yes part of this wonderful novel is narrated by a very observant fig tree but don't let that deter you. This moves back and forth in time to tell the story not only of a family but also the island of Cyprus.  It starts in 2010 with 16 year old Ada whose mother Defne died a year before leaving her with her father Kostas who is more engaged with trees than his daughter.  Kostas and Defne were the Romeo and Juliet of Cyprus when they met in 1974- a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot- and their story is the story of the island as well.  Beautifully written with terrific characters, this one will pull you in.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  For fans of literary fiction.
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A lyrically written story filled with magical realism, about a couple’s relationship that began on the island of Cyprus. One is Greek, the other Turk, and the island is divided by those identities.  One other theme of this story is sexual orientation. Also, the biology woven through makes this a very interesting story, filled with new-to-me knowledge, beautiful scenery, and historical events that make this a fascinating read.
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Told from multiple points of view in a non-linear timeline, this novel introduces us to Defne and Kostas in the 1970s: their love, their daughter, their island, their pain. We learn of the devastation that tore apart the beautiful island of Cyprus, home of Defne, a Turkish girl, and Kostas, a Greek boy. Despite a political climate that prohibited their relationship and destroyed their home, Kostas and Defne share a deep loyalty to their families, as well as their island. As the novel progresses, we are privy to the conflicting emotions that accompany the realization that their home is no longer the safe and comforting place they once knew. 

The novel is also told from the point of view of Ada, Defne and Kostas’s teenage daughter who is growing up in London. As she struggles to come to terms with her mother’s death, her family’s strained relationship with the island of Cyprus and its people, and what it means to be a teenager in today’s world, she stumbles upon pieces of her identity she never knew she was missing.

I really enjoyed the book. Very well written. Elif Shafak has a beautiful way of making scientific facts not only readable and understandable, but entertaining. I learned more from this novel than I ever learned in any science class. Shafak was able to transport me to a foreign land in a way that very few writers can. For those of us who struggle to understand our own patriotism while living in a country that doesn’t always provide for and protect its people, the book was relatable and insightful. I usually reflect on whether I “liked” the characters when doing a review, but with this novel, I found myself reflecting more on whether I understood the characters. Shafak crafted characters with depth and complexity. They were challenging for me to completely understand, which made the book even more intriguing. 

This book comes out on November 2, 2021 and I recommend checking it out. Be prepared to think, feel, and learn. Please don’t read through it quickly and definitely do not skim over the detailed passages. This book is a gift. Read it slowly and savor it.

Thanks to Elif Shafak, Bloomsbury, and Netgalley for this ARC in return for my honest review.
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Where to start with this book!? Elif Shafak really created a beautiful piece of art in this novel, I'm so glad to have read it. At it's heart this is a a story about intergenerational trauma. 

The story revolves around a few different characters and is told from their different perspectives. Kostas, a Greek Cypriot, and Dephne, a Turkish Cypriot, are young lovers and their tale follows them from their youth in Cypress to their 'current' life together. Ada, their 16 year old daughter is struggling socially at school and with not knowing much about her parents' cultural identities and subsequently her own. Most unusually, the narration from the Fig Tree growing in the families back yard, smuggled from Crete, tells the tale of all characters as it has observed them over the many years. 

There are a lot of themes to follow including the dangers of climate change, the repercussions of colonialism, how trauma affects many generations and the dangers of perceived differences. Though these are all heavy subjects, the writing is lyrical and beautifully easy to take in; it is informative without leaving you feeling heavy and overburdened by its words. 

Shafak brings the story of the ongoing Turkish-Greek conflict into the spotlight with this tale, and I for one was tremendously affected by the stories she wove together, many of which were based on true life events. The author lifts the veil on the lives of individuals from both sides in an honest, unbiased way which serves as a reminder of the humanity of the individuals which make up each side.

This read was thoroughly enjoyable, touching. and heartbreaking all while serving a larger purpose of informing us of one of the great human atrocities to take place in the very near past. 

*This review was from an Advanced Reader Copy I received from the publisher, however, the review is entirely my own.
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This book was written well and quite intriguing, but a bit too far-fetched for me to enjoy.  I felt that the tree talking was a bit Grandmother willow.
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📚Book Review📚

Rumored to be Reese’s Book Club November pick, The Island of Missing Trees is a story that intertwines nature with human relationships.

The book rotates between present day London where 16 year old Ada struggles as she has just lost her mother Defne. Her father Kostas, a botanist, is preoccupied with his love of his plants and trees. We are also taken back to Defne and Kostas’ youth where they fall in love among Turkish and Greek conflict(s). And finally we are given the perspective of a Fig tree who sees the fallout of war in Cyprus and is brought to London years later by the couple. 

✨My thoughts✨
This is a gorgeously written book really unlike any I’ve ever read. The fact that a tree is a character that I cared for and enjoyed reading about should tell you something. Every incredible description of food, natural life, the animals that visit the tree or the interactions each character has are rich and meaty. I learned a lot about trees, bats, bees, butterflies but in a way that was exciting rather than a slog through a textbook. I can see why this would be picked by a celebrity book club because there is so much to talk about from trans generational grief to finding one’s place in the world. There’s so much more I didn’t even describe here to do this book justice! Please someone else read it stat so we can discuss it:) Loved it! 

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨ (4.25/5 stars) 

The Island of Missing Trees is out Nov 2. Thanks to #netgalley and #bloomsburypublishing for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#theislandofmissingtrees #theislandofmissingtreesbyelifshafak #elifshafak #reesesbookclub #bookstagram #bookrecommendations #bookreview
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The Island of Missing Trees is a magnificent story about love, loss, identity, and nature. 

Set in 1974 Cyprus, the country is in turmoil between the two religious groups on the island. Despite the danger it presents, Kostas, a Greek Cypriot, and Defne, a Turkish Cypriot, are young and in love at a time when there is a lot of turmoil between the two groups living on the island. The only place safe for the two to meet is at a tavern called The Happy Fig. The Happy Fig gets its name from a fig tree planted in the centre. This tree remembers everything that goes on in the tavern. The tree remembers the lover’s secret meetings, war breaking out, and what came after. 

Fast forward to present-day London, Ada is grieving from the death of her mother. She feels that she can’t open up to Kostas, her father, because he is always buried in his work and talking to the fig tree in their backyard. Ada’s parents raised her in an English-speaking household and have never revealed much about their life in Cyprus. With the help of her visiting aunt, she begins to learn what her parents have left unsaid and discover her identity. 

This story has beautiful and lyrical prose with a sprinkle of magical realism. It’s told from the perspectives of Ada, Kostas, and the fig tree. The chapters are short, making this easy to fly through, even though I didn’t want it to end. There is also a helpful glossary of terms. 

It explores the harsh realities of war on civilians, the resulting traumas, and ways to heal from it. 

I forgot to mention that there’s also a talking parrot. This is the second book I’ve read this month that had one. I see a trend and, authors, I would like all future novels to have one too, please. 

This was my first Elif Shafak novel, but it will in no way be my last. 

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for the arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

For more book reviews, see my blog:
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Beautiful. Greek and Turkish culture and history intertwined with a love story and a daughter trying to find out where she belongs. The writing is BEYOND gorgeous. I learned a lot about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the mass graves discovered years later. Symbolism slaps you in the face while reading this one - there’s a fig tree brought to England from Greece….it narrates a perspective through a lot of the book. I understood and appreciate the symbolism and technique but found it a bit too heavy-handed at times. In the end, I think this is an important, lovely read - I hope you pick it up.  Heartfelt thanks to Viking for the advanced copy.
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The Island of Missing Trees revolves around a couple who met in Cyprus shortly before the 1974 Cypriot civil war.

In a nutshell: Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea with a long history of being occupied or administered by different countries. In modern times, Cyprus was under the dominion of the British Empire from 1878 to 1960, when the island became independent. At that time, Cyprus was largely populated by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, each of whom considered the island to be part of their home country.

To broker peace, the Zurich Agreement of 1960 recognized the equality and autonomy of the Greek and Turkish communities, which would be politically and culturally separate. Nevertheless, continuing conflict led to a 1974 civil war that (essentially) divided the country into 'Turkish Cyprus' in the north and 'Greek Cyprus' in the south. A romance between a Greek boy and a Turkish girl would be excoriated by both communities, and that's the conflict at the center of this gorgeous novel.

The story rotates among three time periods: 1974; the early 2010s, and the late 2010s.

⦿ 1974: Two teenagers in Nicosia, Cyprus - a Christian Greek boy named Kostas and a Muslim Turkish girl called Defne - are in love. They can't be seen together, so they meet in the back room of a taverna called The Happy Fig. The popular hangout is run by two men, Greek Cypriot Yiorgos and Turkish Cypriot Yusuf, who are sympathetic to the young couple's plight.

The Happy Fig is an ethnic eatery, described as follows: "The entrance of the tavern was partially covered with twisting vines of honeysuckle. Inside, solid black beams ran the length and breadth of the ceiling, from which hung garlands of garlic, onion, drying herbs, chili peppers and cured sausages. There were twenty-two tables....and a charcoal grill at the back from which the smell of flatbread wafted daily, along with the enticing aromas of cooking meats." To add to the taverna's ambiance, a Ficus carica (fig tree) sat in the middle of the dining area, growing through a cavity in the roof, and a resident parrot called Chico landed on people's shoulders and tried to snatch their food.

On their first evening at The Happy Fig, Kostas and Defne could afford nothing more than water, but the taverna's owners sent a tray with stuffed vine leaves, shrimp saganaki, chicken souvlaki with tsatziki sauce, moussaka, and pitta bread.

The happy young couple enjoyed every mouthful....and the Ficus watched it all. The fig tree is actually one of the book's narrators, and its long life, ability to converse with birds and insects, powers of observation, and intellect make it uniquely knowledgeable and articulate.

Though Kostas and Defne were only dimly aware of it, there was big trouble on the horizon, spurred by deep divisions between Greeks and Turks, rising unrest, and increasing terrorism.


⦿ Early 2010s: The Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) is digging up sites in Cyprus, looking for the remains of people killed in the 1974 civil war. Thousands of people, both Greeks and Turks, are unaccounted for, and the teams searching for them are composed of archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, geneticists, forensic specialists, and others. The CMP works from information supplied by anonymous informants, and is hoping to reunite the deceased with their families.

A CMP searcher observes, "Sometimes you search for weeks on end and achieve nothing. It's frustrating. Some of the informants misremember the details, others deliberately lead us on wild goose chases. You search for victims, you encounter medieval, Roman, Hellenistic bones. Or prehistoric fossils....Then, just when you think you are going nowhere, you find mass graves." Explaining the need to hurry, the worker goes on, "The older generation is dying, taking their secrets with them to the grave. If we don't dig now, in a decade or so there won't be anyone left to tell us the whereabouts of the missing. It's a race against time, really.'

The CMP workers go on to discuss similar searches in Spain, Argentina, Chile and other countries that experienced internal conflict - and the stories are heart-wrenching.


⦿ Late 2010s: Kostas and his teenage daughter Ada are living in London, mourning the recent death of Defne. Kostas, engulfed by grief over the loss of his wife, throws himself into his work - researching and writing about plants, animals, nature and ecosystems.

Kostas seems most comfortable with his fig tree, grown from a cutting of the fig tree in The Happy Fig taverna. Kostas talks to his fig tree, and the tree talks back....but Kostas can't hear it. In fact the the fig tree is quite loquacious. For instance, one winter afternoon the tree hears a bird and muses, "Inside the hedge a whitethroat began to sing - swift, scratchy notes. I wondered what a North African warbler was doing in our garden at this time of year. Why hadn't it left for warmer places with all the others that must now be on their way south, and who, if they made a slight change in their flight path, might just as well head towards Cyprus and visit my motherland."

As for Ada, she's overwhelmed by the loss of her mother, feels shut out by her father, and has problems concentrating at school. Ada experiences an additional emptiness because her parents never talked about Cyprus and she's never met any of her Cypriot relatives. Kostas and Defne wanted Ada to feel English, but the teen feels a pull toward Cyprus, a sort of epigenetic longing.

Nevertheless, when Defne's sister, Aunt Meryem, comes to London for a visit, Ada's first instinct is to be standoffish and distant. In large part, this is because Meryem didn't come to Defne's funeral, and Ada is angry at Meryem and all the other Cypriot relatives.

Like many Cypriot islanders, Meryem is deeply superstitious. On her first night in London, Meryem does a ritual for the dead near Kostas's fig tree, to guide Defne's spirit to safety. The tree, who's seen it all before, muses, "Humans have always sensed there was something uncanny about me and my kind....In Judaism, sitting under a fig tree has long been associated with a deep, devout study of the Torah....The Prophet Mohammed said the fig was the one tree that he wished to see in paradise....It was while meditating under a Ficus religiosa that Buddha attained enlightenment....and King David was fond of us." The Ficus goes on and on like this, explaining how special its kind are. (This is one smart fig tree!! 🙂)

Meryem's visit does give Ada the opportunity to ask questions about Cyprus, and Meryem reveals some surprising truths about Ada's parents and their families. Meryem also likes to cook, and tells Ada, "Food is the heart of a culture. You don't know your ancestors' cuisine, you don't know who you are." Then Meryem goes on to extoll the virtues of Turkish baklava, saying, "Everyone makes baklava, true, but not everyone succeeds. We Turks make it crispy with roasted pistachios. That's the right way. Greeks use raw walnuts - God knows who gave them that idea, it just ruins the taste."

In many ways, Kostas is the most sensitive character in the book, with his deep love of nature and his pain at its destruction. Kostas doesn't believe humans have the right to exploit everything in the world, which makes him something of an outlier. For example, one day young Kostas is watching his mother preserving songbirds (a Cypriot delicacy), opening their breasts with her thumbs and stuffing them with salt and spices. A wave of nausea overcomes the boy, and crying, he says, "Don't do that, Mama. I don't want to eat them anymore." Years later, Kostas tries to interfere with songbird poachers, which doesn't work out too well for him.

I like historic novels that enlighten me, and this one has bits about Greek customs; Turkish culture; the history of Cyprus; Greek mythology; and much more. The novel is also filled with beautiful word pictures, exemplified by one of the London fig tree's memories of Cyprus: "Of the past we left behind I remember everything. Coastlines etched in the sandy terrain like creases in a palm waiting to be read, the chorus of cicadas against the rising heat, bees buzzing over lavender fields, butterflies stretching their wings at the first promise of light.....many may try, but no one does optimism better than butterflies."

This is a memorable story with an unexpected (and very nifty) ending. Highly recommended.

FYI: At the end of the book, Elif Shafak describes how she researched the book, and includes a bibliography. Shafak also provides a glossary of foreign phrases, such as: abla - older sister (Turkish); ambelopoulia - a dish of grilled, fried, pickled, or boiled songbirds (Greek); kardoula mou - my little heart (Greek); majnun - a crazy person (Arabic); nazar - evil eye (Turkish); and many more.

Thanks to Netgalley, Elif Shafak, and Bloomsbury Publishing for a copy of the book.
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