She walks unseen through our world.
Cares for our children, cleans our homes.
Her voice unheard.
She has a story to tell.
Will you listen?
Nisha has crossed oceans to give her child a future. By day she cares for Petra’s daughter; at night she mothers her own little girl by the light of a phone. Nisha’s lover, Yiannis, is a poacher, hunting the tiny songbirds on their way to Africa each winter. His dreams of a new life, and of marrying Nisha, are shattered when she vanishes. No one cares about the disappearance of a domestic worker, except Petra and Yiannis. As they set out to search for her, they realise how little they know about Nisha. What they uncover will change them all.
I adored Songbirds, it was probably one of the most stunningly beautiful novels I have read in a long time. The characters, the words resonated from the pages, as you immersed yourself in the small village in Cyprus, in the mystery of Nisha, the most caring, beautiful soul who disappeared one Sunday evening.
The ramifications for those left behind was huge, but Lefteri unraveled them slowly, took her time, didn’t go in all guns blazing with blaring sirens, angry shouting. Instead we reveled in the individual voices of Petra and Yiannis as their past and present lives were laid bare, their shortcoming, their regrets.
For Petra, the broken relationship with daughter. Alika, the grief she carried for her dead husband, the guilt for never recognising that Nisha was more than just a maid, sent her into the underground world of the immigrant worker. The cruel employers, the agencies who charged excessive amounts to find them work, the families left behind as the maids worked long hours to send money home in the hope of providing a better future. It wasn’t just the practicalities Lefteri focused upon, but Petra’s emotional state, the gradual reconnection between mother and daughter, of learning to live with grief, to move forward and appreciate the now.
Yiannis, so complicated but what wasn’t was his love for Nisha, their relationship forbidden, under cover for fear of recrimination. You could sense his desperation of what he may have lost, of what he may have done that could have driven her away. Was it his connections with the less salubrious side of village life, of his merciless hunting of songbirds, a delicacy in the local resturants and clubs. It was hard to read Lefteri’s descriptions of their capture, their killing, their bird song slowly fading as they died in the nets. You understood his need for the money, but as he came to realise at what cost, and just how to extricate himself without recourse from those higher up in the chain.
If much of the novel centered around Petra and Yiannis’s search for Nisha, Lefteri never let us forget that Nisha wasn’t just a maid, a commodity, a person who cooked, cleaned, looked after Alika. Petra came to realise that Nisha was also a mother, a brave one who left her daughter at the age of two to earn money for her future, who also grieved a husband, had her own feelings and emotions. It made the search that more poignant and important,
The truth when it came was desperate, heartbreaking, a waste of what could have been yet for Petra and Yiannis a new beginning, a chance. to right the wrongs.
Songbirds was a novel never to be forgotten the narrative beautiful and poignant, with characters that will live long in the memory.
I would like to thank Zaffre for a copy of Songbirds to read and review and to Compulsive Readers for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a UNICEF supported refugee centre in Athens.