Elif Shafak on Roots

By Viking Books UK

By Viking Books UK

Elif Shafak is the author of The Island of Missing Trees, which publishes in paperback on April 7 2022.


During the writing, thinking and dreaming of The Island of Missing Trees, I read many books exploring nature, botany, place and environment. I believe we have entered an age in which we do not have the luxury of being disconnected, disengaged, indifferent. We cannot be ‘single-issue people.’ If you care about climate injustice, it means you care about gender injustice. Likewise if you are passionate about gender equality, it means you are also passionate about racial equality—as well as fighting class, regional and digital inequalities. I am fascinated by the kind of writing that connects the dots between seemingly separate worlds: East and West, pessimism and optimism, realism and magic, resistance and melancholy. 


Trees are remarkable and far more sentient than we realise. Both under and above the ground they remain connected in so many fascinating ways. From 'a tree’s perspective' everything is interlinked. We humans tend to assume that we are the centre of the universe, we believe we are superior to all other creatures. We are arrogant like that. I believe we have a lot to learn from trees. 


An important theme in my novel, The Island of Missing Trees, is ‘inherited trauma’: identity, belonging, displacement, war, division, immigration. I am also interested in the subtle tension between memory and amnesia. Trees help me to re-think the concept of roots in a new and fresh way. What does it mean to be rooted, uprooted, deracinated, exiled? What does it mean to be a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’? And can we find new roots inside art and literature, and build a home for ourselves in Storyland? 


Several books accompanied me as I was writing:

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Robert MacFarlane

£10.99 £10.44

I love all of Macfarlane’s work, but this book has a special place in my heart.

Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest

Suzanne Simard

£12.99 £12.34

This book came out after I finished the novel but I have so much respect for Simard I wanted to include it nevertheless.

Greek Myths: A New Retelling, with drawings by Chris Ofili

Charlotte Higgins and Chris Ofili


I just adore this book. It is timeless, groundbreaking and spellbinding.

The Refugees

Viet Thanh Nguyen

£8.99 £8.54

Nguyen is a great writer whose work always inspires me.

The Mountains Sing: Runner-up for the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Nguyen Phan Que Mai

£8.99 £8.54

An amazing family story that will simultaneously break your heart and renew your faith in humanity.

Love Medicine

Louise Erdrich

£10.99 £10.44

Erdrich writes with such nuance about complex and difficult themes that many writers would perhaps shy away from, and there is always a quiet magic in her writing.

Ecofeminism, Second Edition: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth


A brilliant collection by scholars and activists on ecofeminism and why it matters. This is very close to my heart.

The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the Imagination

Richard Mabey

£10.99 £10.44

This book, and NATURE CURE, also by Mabey, are essential reading. Mabey is an iconic and pioneering voice and his writing is truly transformative.

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