cover image Songbirds


Christy Lefteri. Ballantine, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-23804-2

Lefteri (The Beekeeper of Aleppo) spins an affecting if didactic story of a woman’s mysterious disappearance from Cyprus. Left to piece together the story of Nisha’s absence are those who know her best: Petra, whom Nisha works for as a house cleaner, nanny, and cook; and Yiannis, a poacher, who is in a secret relationship with Nisha. As the mystery unfolds, more is revealed of the life Nisha left behind seven years earlier in Sri Lanka—including her two-year-old daughter, Kumari, with whom she has been able to speak only through Yiannis’s iPad in the middle of the night. Meanwhile Yiannis wishes he could quit poaching, but he would suffer violent consequences by walking away from his employers; and Petra, a privileged woman who has never formed a bond with her daughter, begins to realize how she’d neglected Nisha’s well-being. Woven throughout are beautiful descriptions of nature, such as the songbirds endangered by Yiannis and other poachers. As the two gradually piece together what happened to Nisha, Lefteri surveys hiring practices that exploit immigrants, as well as law enforcement’s dismissiveness toward Nisha’s case (“These people don’t care about their families.... That’s why they are able to come here”). While heavy-handed in its message, the novel is beautifully written and moving. Lefteri’s fans won’t be disappointed. Agent: Marianne Gunn O’Connor, Marianne Gunn O’Connor Literary. (Aug.)