Yiannis is a poacher, trapping the tiny, protected songbirds that stop in Cyprus as they migrate each year from Africa to Europe, and selling them on the black market. He dreams of finding a new way of life, and of marrying Nisha, who works for Petra and her daughter Aliki. Nisha is raising Aliki, mothering her own child back in Sri Lanka by the screen of a phone.
When Nisha disappears, Yiannis is convinced he is responsible, paralysed by heartbreak and fear. Petra is forced to care for her child again, and when little Aliki insists that they find Nisha, she begins to see that Nisha hasn’t simply run away, and that no one else will bother to look for her.
Thank you to Tracey at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be involved in this blog tour and to the publisher for the proof copy of the book.
This is an eloquent story, set in Nicosia, a love story of sorts, Yiannis loves Nisha and pines for her when she disappears, joining forces with Petra and Aliki to find her. But lets track back a bit in this flawed love story. Nisha travelled from Sri Lanka to Cyprus for work, money to send home to secure her daughters education after her husband’s death. Indebted to the agency which organised her transit and employment, Nisha works long hours for Petra, cleaning, cooking and caring for Aliki.
Petra is also widowed, shortly before the birth of her daughter her husband died, bereft, she sought a maid, hence the arrival of Nisha. And Yiannis rents the rooms upstairs, Petra is his landlady. Petra also effectively owns Nisha although she does not consciously recognise this, but for this reason the love between Nisha and Yiannis is a secret. Also a secret is Yiannis catching songbirds, with his friend Seraphim, a way to make good money but enshirened in criminality, Yiannis is also trapped.
When Nisha goes missing everything changes as Yiannis pines for her and Petra, for the first time appreciates her. The story is beautifully written but what is striking here is the inherent, systemic racism towards this ‘imported labour class.’ Viewed as transient and greedy, Nisha’s disappearance is dismissed by law enforcement, subject to broad and incorrect stereotypes about migrant workers. This racism that manifests as neglect has catatrophic consequences but within the story the author highlights the plight of the workers, charged an exorbitant fee leaves them unable to ever clear their debt, with no rights, this appears to be modern slavery. Endorsed and obvious but unnoticed and unrecognised at best. Trapped
This is a moving read of a small community in Nicosia, Yiannis and Nisha both occupy their own sub communities, while Petra is a businesswoman, owning an optemetrist and largely oblivous to those around her, including her daughter. Nisha’s disappearance changes everything and eveyone as the effects of her absence ripple through.
A lovely, enlightening read from the author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo. A remarkable use of accessible and readable fiction highlighting the plight of a migrant group, seeking to improve their lives but finding themselves trapped. Definitely recommended by me but do folllow the blog tour and check our what others are saying about Songbirds.
About the Author
Christy Lefteri was bought up in London, she 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.