First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers, and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The trees is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubber, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he’s searching for lost love.
Years later a Ficus carica grows in the back garden of a house in London where Ada Kazantzakis lives. This tree is her only connection to an island she has never visited – her only connection to her family’s troubled history and her complex identity as she seeks to untangle years of secrets to find her place in the world.
A moving, beautifully written, and delicately constructed story of love, division, transcendence, history, and eco-consciousness, The Island of Missing Trees is Elif Shafak’s best work yet.
Happy Friday everyone! Another work week is in the books. I hope you had a great week. If not, I hope you find time to rest, relax, and recuperate this weekend. Oh yes, the weekends! Speaking of weekends. I miss those times when I can freely go out on weekend adventures, be it beach bumming, mountain climbing, or simply traveling around. However, with the virus looming, I haven’t been able to do any of these in the past two years. Weekends have turned into mere rest days, spent doing uncompleted chores. To be productive, I have used the weekend to catch up on my reading and blogging backlogs. But after a while, these activities that used to occupy my thoughts and time have become tedious. I guess cabin fever is real. During these times, I just wait for the weekends to be over. Things are better now though. And I hope that things are doing great for you as well. I pray that you are all doing well, in body, mind, and spirit. I fervently hope and pray for this pandemic to end soon.
However, before I can dance my way into the weekend, let me close the work week with a new First Impression Friday update. When the year started, my goal was to kick off my 2022 reading journey by ticking off all the 2021 books I currently have in my possession. It was supposed to be my 2021 year-ender. Unfortunately, I fell short, hence, the ongoing reading catchup. If I may say so myself, this reading journey has been a successful one. The combination of familiar and unfamiliar writers gave my reading journey an interesting landscape. I am also on a roll for I have regained the reading momentum I have lost towards the end of 2021. I am currently reading my fourteenth book for the year and fourth for the month, Elif Shafak’s latest novel, The Island of Missing Trees.
The Island of Missing Trees is my third novel by the prolific and popular Turkish-British writer who I first encountered in early 2019. The Bastard of Istanbul was the first Shafak novel I acquired. However, it was 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World that was the first one that I read after it was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize. I was actually underwhelmed by The Bastard of Istanbul, which was part of my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. This was the reason that I was initially apprehensive about reading her latest novel when I learned about its release. I eventually relented after I read some positive reviews of the book.
In my first two Shafak novels, there was something that stood out. Shafak placed the proverbial literary microscope on the conditions of her homeland. Her books examined the tenuous, and at times, tumultuous relationships Turkey established with its neighbors; this was more palpable in The Bastard of Istanbul. From what I have read so far, The Island of Missing Trees will take the same scenic and historical route. This time around, the focus of the story was on the division of the island nation of Cyprus and the relationships between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. At least that was what I have noticed, so far.
The novel follows two timelines: one in contemporary and one in the 1970s. The present-day timeline was focused on the story of Kostas Kazantzakis and his daughter Ada – the last name reminded me of popular Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis – who were both living in London. Kostas was a botanist while his wife, Defne, recently passed away. Father and daughter dynamics was soon disrupted by the arrival of Meryem, Defne’s sister, from Nicosia, Cyprus. Her mother, Ada’s maternal grandmother, has recently passed away and Meryem was no longer bound by a promise she made. Ada, on the other hand, was belligerent about approaching her aunt. They barely had any connections, except for pictures Defne sent to Meryem. Moreover, no member of Meryem’s, even Kostas’ family attended Defne’s funeral. Despite her initial resentment, Ada’s curiosity got the better of her. What ensued was a foray into history that transported me to 1970s Cyprus.
What has caught my attention, so far, was a different voice that figured prominently in the story. It was the voice of a tree, yes, a tree, a fig tree. The novel, after all, was about an island of missing trees. The scientific name Ficus carica, this particular tree grew up in the Kazantzakis backyard but was exported all the way from Cyprus. To learn how it got there, you must read the novel. It figures prominently in the love story of Kostas and Defne. The fig tree’s voice contrasted the third-person point-of-view of the main narrative.
I have started reading the book earlier today but I managed to cover a lot of ground. What piques my interest are the events that have transpired between the 1970s (the novel’s past) and the 2010s (the novel’s present). I believe that this will answer my question on 1) the promise that Meryem made with her parents, and 2) why the Kazantzakises refused to make any connections with their families in Cyprus. I already have an idea on the second question but I want to know how Shafak laid the events out. With my reading momentum picking up, and with the book’s rather quick pacing, I just might be able to complete it over the weekend. How about you fellow reader? What book are you digging into this weekend? I hope you get to enjoy it! For now, happy reading! Have a great weekend ahead