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Island of Missing Trees

Hello Booklovers, I’m Shelley Armitage in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I still manage my farm and return to my old farmhouse in Vega, Texas, a farming and ranching community where I grew up west of Amarillo in the Panhandle.

Hello Booklovers, I’m Shelley Armitage in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I still manage my farm and return to my old farmhouse in Vega, Texas, a farming and ranching community where I grew up west of Amarillo in the Panhandle.

When I was writing my memoir, Walking the Llano, about this place my main concern was to give voice to the land itself. “What does the land say to us,” I kept asking as I hike the thirty plus miles along the Middle Alamosa Creek which headed on our farm and emptied into the Canadian River. The voices recovered included those of ancient, Native, and Hispano peoples—and those of the purple mesas and canyons themselves—their stories interwoven with my own, my father’s legacy, my mother’s decline, and my brother’s love.

No wonder, then, when I discovered this spring Elif Shafak’s novel, The Island of Missing Trees, I instantly became fan of this Turkish/British writer and her storytelling gift as she weaves the story of war wrought Cypress, focusing on the ecological and human consequences. It’s a love story of two Cypriot teenagers—Defne, Turkish and Muslim, and Kostas, Greek and Christian—as shaped by Cypress’s turbulent civil war.

Their forbidden love finds shelter beneath a fig tree, skying through the tavern’s roof where they meet. The tree is a major narrator in the novel, speaking in over 20 of the chapters, a witness and philosopher through the generations. It’s also an immigrant story (Kostas must flee to London as the family is threatened by the war) and a story of those, like Defne, who must stay. Twenty years later when Kostas returns as a botanist studying plants that can withstand the fires of war and drought, but really searching for lost love, he takes a cutting from the tavern’s old fig tree, now near death from bombings and neglect. As the couple return to plant the tree in their London garden, Defne is pregnant so that when Ada, their daughter is born, both tree and daughter grow up together.

Ada, in Greek, means “island,” and that idea surfaces throughout the novel, suggesting isolation and homeland, mixed identities and disruptions. Ada knows nothing of her parents’ experiences, only that theirs was a forbidden love. The couple pledged to shelter her from the brutal history which involved the death of several family members, the deforestation of the island, and the lasting guilt, grief, and pain. When Ada’s mother dies, she feels utterly alone.

Yet warmth and even humor carry the novel. This is a moving and beautifully written novel, one speaks to the issues of our day and offers, not answers, but a transcendent view as shown in one of the books’ recurring motifs: butterflies. They figure prominently throughout—in Ada’s drawing, her mother’s music box, Kostas’s recounting of the butterflies’ annual migration through Cypress. He explains to Ada that without these newly created generations, the migration and survival would be impossible, surely a lesson for her of healing. With gained knowledge she works through grief and loss as she plans to visit, as a consummate islander—neither Greek nor Turkish, the island of missing trees.

I’m Shelley Armitage for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club’s Summer Reading List wishing you happy reading.

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Summer Read 2022: Summer Reading List 2022 Summer ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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