Songbirds by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First some facts
(1) In Cyprus, an estimated 605,000 migratory birds were caught in mist nets and killed in the autumn of 2021 to lace the diner plates in fancy restaurants and homes - see https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rsp...
(2) The UK issues over 20,000 Overseas Domestic Worker Visas per year to people coming from outside the EU https://gal-dem.com/overseas-domestic... , https://www.thevoiceofdomesticworkers... .
(3) It is very common for migrant women to work in domestic servant jobs in middle class Cypriot homes. In 2019 the body of one was found and with it a multiple murder investigation into the disappearance of 5 woman and 2 children https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsero... their hopes for a better life brutally ended.
Lefteri, herself from a Cypriot family, weaves a rich brocade of a story around the fictional disappearance of Nisha, a maid from Sri Lanka, a widow with a young daughter back home whom she has not seen for 10 years. For those 10 years she has served Petra, herself a widow and brough up her daughter. Nishi and Yiannis, the tenant in Petra's upper flat, are lovers. Yiannis confesses to her that following the bank crisis he lost his job and has ended up catching birds. They both live on the edge of complex, far reaching and in Yiannis's case illegal, operations. Their love affair remains hidden as Nishi fears losing her job and being unable to repay her 'arrangement' fee.
The story alternates chapters from Petra and from Yiannis as Nishi's story is released to the reader. As I started to read this I was struck by how involved I felt in the story even although the final outcome of Nishi's death is all to apparent from the start, but my involvement all the more surprising because I disliked both the bird hunts and the attitude of Petra to her maid. We know Yiannis will finally break from his bird hunter role, that he will go and see Nisha's daughter in Sri Lanka, and that Petra will finally see the wealth of love that Nisha brought into her and her daughter's life. We also see the horrid nationalistic racist misogynistic attitude of the police who will not investigate Nisha's disappearance and who did not investigate the initial reports of the disappearances of the women murdered in Cyprus. Interspersed with these two character’s chapters is the story of the hunter, the Red Lake and a dead hare. It is beautifully crafted and well worth a read. The excellent audio version is narrated by Indira Varma, George Georgiou, Art Malik and Lolita Chakrabarti. Totally compelling read, Highly recommended
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