In brief: The Island of Missing Trees; Tunnel 29; Vesper Flights – review

A powerful novel with a Cypriot backdrop, the thrilling story of a cold war escape and astute essays from nature writer Helen Macdonald

The Island of Missing Trees

Elif Shafak
Viking, £14.99, pp368

Sixteen-year-old Ada is mourning the recent loss of her mother and remains disturbed by her parents’ refusal to talk about their Cypriot heritage. Interspersed with Ada’s story is that of her parents’ courtship, set against the backdrop of the 1974 conflict. Narrated in part by a wise fig tree, Shafak explores love, grief, war and transgenerational trauma in an elegiac and powerfully rendered novel.

Tunnel 29: The True Story of an Extraordinary Escape Beneath the Berlin Wall

Helena Merriman
Hodder, £20, pp336

Based on the successful BBC podcast, Merriman tells the story of a group of East German engineering students who, in 1962, built a secret tunnel beneath the Berlin Wall and helped 29 people escape to the west. Focusing on one student in particular, Joachim Rudolph, it’s an audacious and compelling tale, told with narrative tension and novelistic drive, creating a fascinating portrayal of life in Berlin in the early days of the wall.

Vesper Flights

Helen Macdonald
Vintage, £9.99, pp272 (paperback)

The Costa Book award-winner’s collection of essays should, she says, be treated as a Wunderkammer: a collection of curiosities, idiosyncratically compiled. There are essays on a fascination with birds’ nests that she developed in childhood, on the visceral experience of witnessing a total eclipse and on birdwatching from the top of the Empire State Building. Macdonald has a wonderful gift for exploring the intersection between nature and our experience of it, in writing that is both lyrical and impassioned.

• To buy The Island of Missing Trees, Tunnel 29 or Vesper Flights go to Delivery charges may apply


Hannah Beckerman

The GuardianTramp

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