Elif Shafak’s new novel is an ode to love
The Island of Missing Trees
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Viking, UK
Price: Rs 1,571
In recent times Elif Shafak has emerged as a wonderful storyteller. Shafak is one of the writers who have restored my faith in stories. We need stories to survive, and derive some hope to live in this full-of-evil world.
“Not to be able to tell your story, to be silenced and shut out, therefore is to be dehumanised. It strikes at your very existence; it makes you question your sanity, the validity of your version of events. It creates a profound and existential anxiety in us. In losing our voice something in us dies,” writes Shafak in How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division about the significance of reading and writing stories. In this book written during Covid-19 pandemic, she mentions: “It is mostly through stories that we learn to think, perceive, feel and remember the world in a more nuanced and reflective way. As we gain a better understanding of the struggles of people from different backgrounds, and start to imagine lives beyond the one we are living…”
Shafak’s wonderful way with words makes the reader dive deep into the world she creates through her imagination. Her novel, The Island of Missing Trees, is the latest example. There are many mentionable instances in the novel, many unforgettable lines, but the thing that moved me the most was the story of the fig tree. The tree is one of the narrators of the book.
The novel is Shafak’s masterpiece, each of its 300 plus pages gives one hope; it makes one laugh and cry at the same time, and when you reach the end, you feel that something has changed inside you.
“I am a Ficus carica, known as the edible common fig, though I can assure you there’s nothing common about me. I am a proud member of the great mulberry family of Moraceae from the kingdom of Plantae. Originating in Asia Minor, I can be found across a vast geography from California to Portugal and Lebanon, from the shores of the Black Sea to high hills of Afghanistan and the valleys of India. Burying fig trees in trenches underground during the harshest winters and unearthing them in spring is a curious if well-established tradition.”
This is how the tree introduces itself in the novel. The story keeps the reader motivated to read on and know more about it, eventually falling in love with it. It takes us back to Eden by mentioning that Adam and Eve never ate the apple, it was a fig that they ate:
“Throughout history I have seduced into my canopy droves of birds, bats, bees, butterflies, ants, mice, monkeys, dinosaurs….and also a certain confused couple, wandering aimlessly in the Garden of Eden, a glazed look in their eyes. Make no mistake: that was no apple. It is high time someone corrected this gross misunderstanding. Adam and Eve yielded to the allure of a fig, the fruit of temptation, desire and passion, not some crunchy apple. I don’t mean to belittle a fellow plant, but what chance does a bland apple have next to a luscious fig that still today, eons after the original sin, tastes like lost paradise…”
The novel is Shafak’s masterpiece, each of its 300 plus pages gives one hope; it makes one laugh and cry at the same time, and when you reach the end, you feel that something has changed inside you. You want to be closer to nature and you want to love and respect it.
The reviewer is a Sindhi novelist and journalist