‘The Island of Missing Trees’ by Elif Shafak: Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022

By Victoria Bromley

It’s that time for year again where we choose a book from the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist and review why it deserves it place for this prestigious prize.

Let’s begin by stating that the prose within this book is beautifully written. To those who appreciate cleverly crafted writing, which is expected for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, then everything else about this book is just a bonus. Through the themes of forbidden love, family tensions, conflict and compassion, this novel does it all.

Set in 1970’s Cyprus, a Greek Cypriot, Kostas, and Turkish Cypriot, Defne, fall in love. But they have to keep their love secret due to the conflict between the two sides of the island. They use the tartan as their meeting place. Inside, there is a beautiful fig tree which Kostas then takes to England when he has to flee the country. Many years later, their daughter Ada begins to learn about the history of her parents’ homeland.

One of the best parts of this book, which makes it original by inserting a unique narrative voice, is that certain chapters are told by the fig tree which Kostas brought back from Cyprus and plants in their English back garden. He buries the tree underground for the winter and the fig tree reminisces about what it was like living in Cyprus. We get to know a lot about the nature and environment of the island which would have been limited from any other perspective. This was such a creative solution to digging a bit deeper to provide this closer and more intimate narration of the island.

While I’ve not read any of the other shortlisted novels which are nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 award, this book deserves its place in the shortlist, and is a strong contender to win the title, through the sheer captivation and raw conviction of the narrative. The emotion in this book is palpable. The book also explores different types of love: family relations, romance, love towards nature and the environment, unforbidden love through conflict in different ways.

Maybe this is a personal preference, but I love books with titled chapters. The short chapters also made this book very addictive. While I read it in two parts due to having an incredibly busy period last month, I was able to devour the second part in only days.

Overall, it’s safe to say my favourite character was the fig tree. In isolation this may sound very strange, but the tree’s perspective was so captivating and different. If this book wins, it will be because of that tree.

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