The Power of Storytelling: Elif Shafak


Millie Porter, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

The author put on trial for insulting Turkishness explores the threat of authoritarianism and the power of fiction, as in her new novel, The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak delves deep into underlying truths and exposes the nature of our crumbling ecosystems and ‘inherited pain’.

It is hard to imagine how a story told from the perspective of a Fig tree can scrutinise so much complexity, love, division, intergenerational stories, and silences. The Island of Missing Trees does just that. The hopefulness and understanding within Shafak’s own modest nature, help explain how she realised a tree could be used to speak from a place that people cannot access. As Shafak herself explained, in conversation with Lennie Goodings Chair of Virago Press: “I am an immigrant plant. And like all immigrants, I carry with me a shadow of another land.”

When a fig tree is smuggled into the UK it regenerates into a new life but with an entrenched melancholy from being taken from its previous residence. A metaphor for Shafak’s own experience, as an immigrant in a new country simultaneously struggling to make it her home, even as she longs for the one she left.

Sharing each other’s stories of resilience gives us hope, Shafak told Goodlings, in an event that held the audience spellbound and deeply moved, and there is unity in the voicelessness people can feel: “Screams are building in so many of us.”

“We no longer believe that tomorrow will be better than yesterday,” Shafak tells her fully booked Bookfest audience, yet she also has a “positive view of pessimism”. Shafak addresses the real issues affecting and killing people and nature globally through a lens of love and optimism. Can literature reach the empty hearts of patriotic pigs and nurture the empathy levels of the unconscious?

To answer some of the bigger questions we face as humanity, we need to understand different cultures and the way the world really works. Shafak is a writer, she is “interested in connections”. She understands that memory matters so that humans don’t make mistakes that have already played out in history. I am truly excited to delve deep into the writings of Elif Shafak. The “storyteller from a broken democracy” has a lot more perspective for us all.

Elif Shafak's The Island of Missing Trees is available to buy from the links below: