Songbirds by Christy Lefteri

I loved Songbirds. There was so much to this book to be enjoyed as it opened up a world to me that I wasn’t really aware existed – the motivations of migrant workers to find work abroad and send money home, and their working conditions.

This book is set in Cyprus and is a story centred around Nisha, a woman from Sri Lanka who is employed as a maid, forced to find work to support her mother and daughter when she is widowed. She is too poorly paid in her home country and so makes the decision to leave, to provide. We follow three narrative strands throughout: Yiannis, Nisha’s lover; Petra, Nisha’s employer and Yiannis’ landlady; and a third person omniscient narrator who sets the scene and describes incidents outside of the two main characters’ consciousnesses.

As I said at the start, there is much to be enjoyed in this book but it is not a joyful read. There is a feeling that all of the characters are trapped in some way in lives that have found them rather than being the fruition of their plans. When Nisha goes missing, both Yiannis and Petra are thrown, sent into a spin, by the lack of her presence: Yiannis because he loves her and his sense of loss is immediate; Petra because Nisha has been a source of support for her in bringing up her daughter, Aliki and it is only once Nisha is no longer there, that she realises how important she has been. For Petra, she has seen Nisha as a nanny for Aliki as well as her maid but it takes Nisha’s absence to make her reflect on Nisha’s role in both of their lives.

Petra takes it upon herself to find out what has happened to Nisha and her investigation leads her into a world of which she is part – the world of Cypriots hiring migrant workers as maids – and she gets full disclosure on the lives that these maids lead as a result. Lefteri is keen to show that in Cyprus, at least, these women are seen as less than important, as disposable nonentities, this seen clearly in the way that some employers choose to treat their maids as well as the recalcitrance of the authorities to pursue leads with regard to the disappearance of some of the women.

A great book, moving and real.

3 thoughts on “Songbirds by Christy Lefteri

  1. It does sound like an intriguing story and interesting dynamic between the characters. However, I was one of the few readers, who didn’t love The Beekeeper of Aleppo, which makes me hesitate. Should I give this author a second chance?


      1. Hmm, I wasn’t really invested in the characters. It was like they were 100% defined by the events that happened to them rather than having a personality of their own. Which makes sense, given the traumatic circumstances, it just made it difficult for me to engage with the story. However, I am clearly in minority here…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: