Cover Image: The Island of Missing Trees

The Island of Missing Trees

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Member Reviews

“A Christian cannot marry a Muslim, it offends the eyes of Our Lord.”

“Wherever there is war and a painful partition, there will be no winners, human or otherwise.”

“Civil wars are the worst perhaps, when old neighbors become new  enemies.”

“If you weep for all the sorrows in this world, in the end you will have no eyes.”

Wow, BRILLIANT. Not sure there is much else to say!  The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak is like nothing I have ever read before.  I know that my review can not do it justice. The writing is mesmerizing, just simply beautiful. 

The growth seen in the characters  throughout the novel is fantastic. I feel like all the characters, Defne, Kostas, Ada, and Meryem along with the fig tree will always have a special place in my heart. I loved seeing how Ada and her aunt Meryem’s relationship evolved. 

The story is set in Cypress and London during the 70’s and proceeds through current times. Kostas is Greek and Dafne is Turkish, they fall in love during the civil war in cypress which is a war between the Greeks and Turkish people. Their love is forbidden. 

There are many chapters in this novel narrated by a fig tree.  The fig tree is portrayed as a human along with other plants and trees. This is very different. If you are reading and can’t get into this part of the story skim through those parts and keep reading because the rest of the story is outstanding. 

There is so much to learn about in this novel yet it is also filled  with deep love, deep sorrow, magic, dreams and wonder. Elif Shafak is a masterful storyteller. This is one book you don’t want to miss. Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This is a perfect love letter to fig trees… I know it’s about love, loss, hatred, persistence, war, peace, tradition, religion, humanism, and humanity. Having a grandparent who went through the same loss on an island bit north of Cyprus due to conflicts created by people who could be the only ones benefitting from pitting people against each other, I know about what it means to have a crush on that Greek girl on the other street many many years again and introducing the granddaughter to now 70 something year old lady. Yet this is still a love letter to fig trees for me.

Defne and Kostas were young and in love, but they know the lines that are drawn everywhere else in the world were drawn for them too. (Don’t @ me, because it doesn’t matter how younger generations that took matters into their hands and stopped asking their parents’ permission; those families still secretly wish that their kids are partnered up with their countryman/woman.) Cyprus they know was about to go into flames along with their childhood and near future, but what was meant to happen would happen even years later.

At the end Elif Şafak talks about what she would hide in her luggage if she had known that she wasn’t coming back home and it got me thinking what would I bring in my luggage if I know that I’m going to spends months, sometimes years without setting a foot on home soil: I think I would bring a fig sapling (and maybe her little sister olive’s sapling too). I found so much about the people I know and myself in their book. If you are a Mediterranean kid or love a hopeless yet hopeful stories, you will love this book
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The most beautiful novel I've read in 2021, The Island of Missing Trees pays homage to the beautiful Greek-Turkish/Turkish-Greek island of Cyprus. Kostas and his daughter, Ada, are both still reeling from the loss of his wife/her mother, Defne.  We go back and forth in time and between London and Cyprus as the story unfolds, a love story of a novel, love between Kostas and Defne, another young couple who were their friends, a love of trees and nature, and a love of place - this island of Cyprus. 

Elif Shafak, the author, manages to include lots of Cyprus's history, including legends and superstitions. She also provides much new-to-me information on trees, plants, and animals. She does this all with stunning, lyrical prose and without leaving the reader feeling overwhelmed.  The book is truly transportive; I could clearly envision the Cyprus described in this novel.  I could imagine being in London during the brutal storm that was passing through.  Best of all, the characters feel like the sort of people one might meet in real life. They have flaws and virtues and rich history and depth.  One of the main characters is a fig tree that is also an immigrant, transplanted in London from Cyprus.  Even the tree comes alive as a character.  I especially enjoyed Ada's aunt Meryem. She reminds me of someone I know and hold close to my heart.

The ending will especially have readers rethinking how they treat the environment and the trees, in particular.  The book is not a thriller or necessarily straight-up romance. However, the writing is so beautiful, the reader will find themselves not wanting to put the book down in order to continue witnessing the gorgeous combination of words and sentences put upon the page. It's a delectable hot fudge sundae of a book, and I would highly recommend to all.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for making this book available to me.
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Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy. I got well into Part 2 of the novel, but I decided not to finish. I actually really learned a lot about trees, and the tree’s point of view was sentimental, informative, and different. There wasn’t much for me in terms of multicultural studies or religious identity. I kind of got lost with the history. The girl’s sadness and frustration over family she never met also put me off.
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This was an amazing book that kept me interested from beginning to the end.  The writing was beautifully done and so were the characters.  I really enjoyed the fact that the narrator was different than the usual.
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This book was very confusing. It had a lot of magical realism, and I don't think I'm the target audience for this. The writing was decent, but underwhelming at times too. I'm very disappointed. If you like fantasy elements in your fiction, you might enjoy this.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me the privilege of reading a digital copy of this lovely novel for my honest review. This was a well-written story of family roots, community, love, loss and the important connections within the natural world. The different chapters giving each characters’ perspective kept the story fresh with short, beautifully written chapters. After reading this novel, I am looking forward to diving into others by this talented author.
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After reading 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World earlier this year, I immediately added The Island of Missing Trees to my list.  And not surprisingly, it is absolutely stunning.
Shortly after her mother’s death, Ada has a breakdown in class and screams until she runs out of breath.  Her parents emigrated from Cyprus and now that her mother has passed away, Ada is alone in London now with her dad until her aunt comes to visit. 
When the narrative switches, Ada’s parents are introduced in 1974 Cyprus in a modern day Romeo and Juliet scenario where Greek and Turkish Cypriots shouldn’t interact.  In a country still divided, they met and fell in love in the Happy Fig tavern.  Central to the tavern is a fig tree growing up through the center and up through the roof, witnessing everything on the island including young love.
If you haven’t experienced Shafak’s beautiful prose, this novel will hook you on her writing.  Simultaneously ethereal and down to earth, difficult subjects were handled with sensitivity and lightness of touch.  It’s a story of love, conflict, suffering and hope.  It’s powerful, profound, and moving.  A truly beautiful read. 
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Elif Shafak's writing never ceases to amaze me. This story had me captivated from the first few pages, although it did take me a bit into the book to realize the headlines were the points of view changes, and yes - one of them was from the point of view of the fig tree. 

It was beautiful, and I found myself having to put it down to digest the chapters I read, only to pick it up again the next day and be swept away.

Thank you to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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My first time to read anything by this author but I cannot wait to read more! This book was so interesting and I loved the character development. Please do yourself a favor and read this book!!
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Elif Shafak never let's me down. Of course, I had to put this down multiple times due to it's heaviness (in true Shafak fashion) so it took me longer than a usual read to complete. That being said, Shafak is always such a poet and I'm constantly struck by her way with words.
This one did take a little bit more time for me to really sink my teeth into and get a good feel regarding what this story was about, but it is so worth taking the time to settle in. Please, please, please pick this up.

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This is the story of war, of a couple in love separated, of a young girl Ada carrying the sadness of her family, of a gentle gay couple killed, and more—all narrated in part by a fig tree.  And who would have known that a tree could be an amazing storyteller.

If you’ve ever fallen in love with a book, that is what happened to me when I read this one!  It is an incredible read with elements of war, a heart wrenching love story, complicated parent/child relationships, and the story of a young girl gathering the history of her family and her developing “self”.   I thought it was a creative, innovative masterpiece.  There were so many sentences that made me think and appreciate the plant kingdom even more.  And sentences, long and short, which I loved.  For example, this one rings true for women’s rights--“women mourn, men replace.”  It will lift your spirit and encourage your soul.
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This is a great historical-fiction read that deals with heartbreak, civil war, and the depths of healing from such deep trauma. This story follows Defne and Kostas, lovers who can't be together due to their cultures. The story then follows them through hardships, reunions, and the obstacles that stand in their way. 

The writing of this story was truly beautiful. The story switches back and forth to present day and the past, to convey the emotions felt by the characters during this time. The story is told from the perspective of Defne and Kosta’s daughter, Ada, and a fig tree. While this sounds weird, the switch in narration and the inclusion of the view from the fig tree opened this novel up in a whole new way. This is a great book that deals with cultural differences, the complexities of relationships, and the power to heal. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reader’s copy.
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This book is why I love reading authors from outside my country and experience, and Elif Sharif is one of the best. Not only does her writing sing, I learn so much when I read her. (I started to take breaks to fact-check. She was 100%, so I stopped doubting.) In this work I discovered a Cyprus that is split by a demarcation line, that people bury fig trees in the winter, and much more. 

This is a story about the Green Line, the partition that cuts through Cyprus, aiming to separate Greeks from Turks, Christians from Muslims - and a couple that dared to cross it. Not only cross the line, but find and keep love despite their difficulties and differences. While the line separates two groups, their history and future are together. As she said, “Greeks and Turks are flesh and fingernail.”

The story arches from Cyprus in the 70’s to London in 2010 and is told from three points of view. Kosta tells a good bit of the history of his life, love affair with Defne, their families, and the island. He is a wonderful, gentle character and I immediately warmed to him. The other two are his daughter, Ada - a shy and tortured teen living in London, and a fig tree brought from Cyprus as a cutting who shares interesting details about flora, fauna, and how people connect to them. Ada is the product of a marriage between a Turk and a Greek and the tree was lovingly cared for in Cyprus by a Turk/Greek couple. These two characters arrived in England together and their lives are completely intertwined. 

And how talented must an author be to make a fig tree one of the main characters? (I think of Death in The Book Thief by Zusak or the house in The Dutch House by Patchett.) This is a feat all unto its own. The tree’s point of view is so interesting. It speaks to the need for all to be a part of the earth and a call for humans to come back to nature and stop ravaging it. I adored the figs interaction with ants, butterflies, a parrot, and other animals. The words his mouse friend chewed through and shared with seemed particularly appropriate as a 9 word summary of the book, “Some day this pain will be useful to you.”  

There is love, loss, determination, pain, and hope wrapped up in this beautiful book. Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Island of Missing Trees taught me quite a bit about nature, immigration, and Cyprus. Shafak has an excellent way with words and her stories always teach me a number of things, beyond what I expected to learn.
Extraordinary storytelling and great characters (I even eventually got on board with the fig tree narration), makes this story well worth the read and Shafak an auto-buy author.

Thank you to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an arc for review.
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Opening in 2010s in England, sixteen-year-old Ada is grief-stricken due to the death of her mother. She has been kept in the dark about her parents’ past. It quickly flashes back to 1970s Cyprus, where her parents meet and fall in love. Defne is a Turkish Muslim, and Kostas is a Greek Christian. Their relationship must be kept secret, as it is neither condoned by their families nor socially accepted. They separate when civil war breaks out, but are reacquainted later, when Defne joins a group searching for remains of those killed in the conflict.  

This book is beautifully and creatively written. It portrays the manner in which the past informs the future, generation to generation. It is a story of grief, loss, healing, displacement, and identity. It pays homage to the natural world and a large portion is narrated by a fig tree. Shafak employs magical realism to enable the fig tree, other plants, insects, and animals to play a major role in this story. This device feels clunky at first, I decided to just “go with it” and it ended up working well.  

The supporting characters are particularly well crafted – a parrot named “Chico,” a gay couple who own a tavern called The Happy Fig, and Ada’s Aunt Meryem, a fabulous character who connects the past to the present. I also very much enjoyed the setting. I have not read books set in Cyprus, and it was informative to read about its turbulent history. 

I think reactions to this book will depend on the reader’s ability to accept a fig tree as narrator. The ending changes the reader’s perception of the fig tree and offers a deeper understanding. I very much enjoy Shafak’s writing style. This book provides another example of her evocative prose. 

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Special thanks to NetGalley Bloomsbury and Bloomsbury Publishing for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

I love, love, loved this book. Elif Shafak, the author, certainly knows how to weave a beautiful tale filled with history and magic. Narrated by the central part of this book, a fig tree, its a beautiful story of love, pain, and quite a few characters . The story is partly about Ada, daughter of Defne and Kostas, forbidden lovers because of different cultures, a Greek Christian and a Turkish Muslim, who meet in the 70's  in Cyprus at a pub with a fig tree growing inside, who is witness to their invincible love story.

Fast forward to England, 2010, where their daughter Ada is dealing with the loss of her mother Defne and her father Kostas , who is lost in grief and all she has is the fig tree in her backyard, which was taken partly from the fig tree from the pub in Cyprus and grown in her backyard in London that holds all the secrets inside to the story of Defne and Kostas.

What a beautiful book and a beautiful story of magic realism and narrated by the fig tree.

Easily 5 stars!
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’It will have blood: They say blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak…’
-- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

A story of life and death, love and loathing, the seductive power of beauty, the destructive power of cruelty, and the healing nature of love and laughter.

This begins in England, momentarily leaving it to return to the beginning of this story, shared in this brief moment by a Ficus carica, a common fig who shares the indignity of being called ’common’ in any sense, memories of the past, the proud history of its adaptation across the world as they were carried across the globe. The narration of this story is shared by others as the story continues, returning periodically to the viewpoints of this tree who has seen and heard so much throughout its lifetime.

This is the first time I have read this author, and I was completely bewitched by this story, the way she weaves the stories of individuals who only briefly appear, looking deep inside these people for their truths. Their pain that they do not share, and the love that they keep inside, hiding from it, as well. Their joys and their fears.

Ada is at the forefront as this begins in London in 2010, a 16-year-old who has recently lost her mother, Defne. Her father, Kostas, lost in his own sorrow, can’t seem to reach her to help her navigate her grief. Her pain is tangible, and one day while in school, her pain is released in one long, piercing scream that is captured on a classmate’s cell phone, shared online, and goes viral. Now she is humiliated in addition to her pain.

In their garden grows a Ficus carica, it is the only physical connection Ada has to a history she knows little about, to the mother that she has lost, to the island where they met, and their story, which she knows little about. Secrets kept from her, if not intentionally. This tree carries those secrets inside.

Tackling the cultural differences that divided Cyprus in the 1970s, it also shares the story of Kostas and Defne, how they met, and continue to embrace a relationship, one that must remain hidden. They meet secretly at The Happy Fig, a café with a fig tree growing inside, which is also home to Chico, a parrot. It is a love that must remain hidden to their families, their differences that are at the heart of the cultural divide. One a Greek Christian, the other a Turkish Muslim. But love never takes such things into account, love insists on defying boundaries, the very nature of love lies in its belief it is invincible.

Pub Date: 02 Nov 2021

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Publishing
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Elif Shafak is a great storyteller…..a very skillful writer. I’m a fan!

….I loved the ‘very’ start/introduction with an excerpt by William Shakespeare:
     “To immigrants and exiles everywhere, the uprooted, the re-rooted, the rootless,
And to the trees we left behind, rooted in our memories….”
“Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet. I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world”. 
        —Pablo Neruda, Memoirs
“It will have blood: They say blue head will have bled. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak…
        — William Shakespeare, Macbeth 

I also loved the beginning contextual quotes. (I felt it was a great way to set up readers.  I was excited to dive into the main meal:

     “Once upon a memory, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, there lay an  island so beautiful and blue that the many travelers, pilgrims, crusaders and merchants who fell in love with it either wanted never to leave or try to tow it with hemp ropes all the way back to their own countries”. 

“Legends, perhaps.
But legends are there to tell us what history has forgotten. It has been many years since I fled that place on board a plane, inside a suitcase made of soft black leather, never to return. I have since adopted another land, England, where I have grown and thrived, but not a single day passes that I do not yearn to be back. Home. Motherland”. 

“The Mediterranean sea will collapse on itself and its secret will rise to the surface, as every secret is bound to do in the end”. 

After the beautiful introduction we move into the first chapter.
          …..We meet Ada Kazantzakis, sixteen years old at the start - in London.  It’s the late 2010’s 
She was sitting in class. The bells were about to ring for the Christmas holidays. 
Everyone was concerned about a big storm coming that was expected to paralyze large swathes of England and Scotland and parts of northern Europe. People had been stockpiling, getting ready for the siege. 
We learn that Ada’s father, Kostas, an evolutionary ecologist and botanist, had published twelve books — he wrote and spoke about the impact of deforestation with a passion. 
Since the death of Ada’s mother -(a little less than a year ago) her father had retreated into research “like a burrowing animal hiding in its tunnel for safety and warmth”. 
     “No matter the time of day, her father seemed to prefer the company of trees to the company of humans”. 
GREAT SET UP ….I was still very interested….

But something also felt ‘off’…..
       … [note: for me this was the only boo-boo, I didn’t feel fit]..
Just before Ada’s teacher, Mrs. Walcott dismissed the class for the Christmas holiday break— she gave the students an assignment. 
They were to interview an elderly relative during the holidays. The teacher told them to support their five page essay with historical facts. She didn’t want speculation. 
Ada had never met her relatives but she knew that they lived on an island in The Mediterranean Sea-in Cyprus. 
Her relatives and the island with both mysteries to Ada. 
ALL GOOD…clear!….I was still excited to dive into this novel.
THIS happened ….(I found it disturbing and puzzling): 
A boo boo: (in my opinion).
Ada imagined her teacher touching herself at night. 
It didn’t feel fitting with ‘anything’.   It was so surprising to me.  I found ‘nothing’ that warranted this to be included in this story. 
Plus, it was too fast and too soon to drop a sexual visual fantasy - about Ada’s teachers private life. I would have omitted it altogether. 

We moved from the classroom to the next chapter called: “Fig Tree”….
I was at 9% of this story.
I ‘began’ to understand what was going on with the styling, crafting, and storytelling. 
It’s bathed in lyrical magical realism. 

The narrative switches back-and-forth from present day - 2010 to the past of 1974 when Ada’s parents - Kostas and Defne (Christian Greek and Turkish Muslim), were secretly dating, knowing their families would not approve of their relationship.
Kostas and Defne’s secret meeting place was in ‘The Happy Fig’ tavern in Cyprus. The tavern was a happening spot for 
Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Maronites, and UN soldiers. 

The eco consciousness of The Fig Tree was powerful: [The fig Tree is one of the narrators]….
Example of The Fig Tree’s voice:
“When you are buried, I’ll come and talk to you every day, Kostas said as he drove the spade into the ground. He bore down on the handle and lifted up the clod of soil, tossing it on to the growing mound beside him. You won’t feel lonely”. 
“I wish I could have told him that loneliness is a human invention. Trees are never lonely. Humans think they know with certainty where their being ends and where someone else’s starts. With their roots tangled and caught up underground, linked to a fungi and bacteria, trees harbour no such illusion. For us, everything is interconnected”. 

In the authors notes Elif wrote that many of the stories of the missing mentioned throughout the novel were based on real accounts. The story is fiction, but inspired by many real accounts. We learn about the fraught and unsettling history—(torn apart by war over religion divisions), the island became a matter of disagreement between two prominent ethnic communities: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. 
     “History has warned about the between humaninduced carbon emissions and rising temperatures” 
Elif says….
“I also wanted to honour local folklore and oral traditions. But everything here is fiction
— a mixture of wonder, dreams, love, sorrow and imagination”.

It takes a little concentration and patience….to fully appreciate the magnitude of this novel. ….but it’s more than worth it.
Many sentences and paragraphs are not only beautifully written - but they are profoundly discerning and perceptive. 

Elif Shafak gently exposes the depths of war, conflict, love, loss, trauma, migration, segregation, pain and suffering….connecting our human world with our root-plant world.

“Plants can pick up vibrations, and many flowers are shaped like balls so as to better trap sound waves, some of which are too high for the human ear. Trees are full of songs and we are not shy to seeing them”.

“I listen carefully, and I find it astounding that trees, just through their presence, become a saviour for the downtrodden and symbol of suffering for people on opposite sides”. 
     “Across history we have been a refuge to a great many. A sanctuary not only for mortal humans, but also for gods and goddesses. There is a reason why Gaia, the mother goddess earth, turned her son into a fig tree to save him from Jupiter’s thunderbolts. In various parts of the world, women thought to be cursed and married to a Ficus carica before they can pledge their troth to the one they truly love”. 

     “Ever since Kostas was a boy, trees had offered him solace, 
a sanctuary of his own, and he had perceived life through the colors and density of their boughs and foliage. Yet his profound admiration for plants had also afflicted him with a strange sense of guilt, as if by paying this much attention to nature he was neglecting something if not more crucial then at least as urgent and compelling — human suffering. Much as he loved the arboreal world and it’s complex ecosystem, was he, in some roundabout way, avoiding the day-to-day realities of politics and conflict? A part of him understood that people, especially where he came from, might see it this way, but a bigger part of him seriously rejected the idea. 
He had always believed there was no hierarchy — or there should be none — between human pain and animal pain, and no precedence of human rights over animal rights, or indeed of human rights over those of plants, for that matter. He knew many among his fellow countrymen I would be deeply offended if he voiced this out loud”. 

There are pages and pages of delicious moments…..
Here is one more…( put a sweet smile on my face):
     “Defne was gone but Ada was here.
Kostas was worried that he was failing her. He had been withdrawn and taciturn this past year, a cloud of lethargy looming over everything he said and couldn’t say”. 
They had been so close once, he and Ada. Like a bird imbuing each tale with suspense, he would tell her about night-blooming chocolate flowers, slowgrowing lithops — flowering stones — that strangely resembled pebbles, and Mimosa pudica, a plant so shy it would shrink away at the slightest touch. It warmed his heart to see his daughter’s endless fascination with nature; he would always patiently answer her questions. Back then, such was the strength of their bond that Defne, only half jokingly, would complain: ‘I’m jealous. See how Ada listens to you! She admires you, darling’”. 

The symbolic relationship between humans and plants take several forms. Plants help humans breathe by providing us with oxygen, and humans help plants breathe by providing them with carbon dioxide….
It’s a relationship made from love.💕🌳

Congrats to Elif Shafak…. a beautiful novel indeed!

Thank you Netgalley, Bloomsbury Publishing…and Elif Shafak

4.99 rating
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Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for a review.

Add this to your TBR list.  Coming Nov. 2.  Love!  Love!! Love!!! The language and detail is entrancing.  I didn't want the book to end.

Kostas and Defne are teens when they meet on the island of Cypress in 1974.  However they have to meet in secret because he is a Christian Greek and she is a Turkish Muslim.  They two meet in the back room of a Tavern, The Happy Fig.  It is owned by two men, one Greek and one Turk, so they understand the lovers plight.  As political tensions rise and the threat of war eminent, Kostas' mother sends him away to live with family in London.  Twenty-five years later he returns under the guise of botanical research but in his heart he is there for Defne.

Throughout the book the fig tree from the tavern provides narrative for not only the lovers but for the history of their story, the island, the supporting characters and of nature.  An ecological eye-opener of how trees, plants, animals and insects exist without the world noticing.

This story is about love and loss, trauma and healing, understanding and forgiveness. A must read!
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