Songbirds

Sometimes, we are blind to things that happen around us. Sometimes, we don’t want to know. Sometimes, it is dangerous to know…

Nisha is a maid for Petra in Cyprus. Petra is a single mother, lucky to have Nisha to care for her daughter while she is at work. In some ways their lives have parallels. In others, they are far apart.

When Nisha disappears one night, Petra begins to realise how little she knows about her maid and how much she needs her presence. Her daughter Aliki pines for Nisha – but she is not the only one.

Where can Petra turn for help to find Nisha? Who might know where she went and why? Who are the people in the local community who might have observed Nisha’s last moves?

At home, Aliki remains distant and sad. Where is Nisha, the one who has basically replaced her distant mother over many years? As a young child, does Aliki have any hints about why Nisha chose to leave – if she actually did?

Christi Lefteri (also author of the Beekeeper of Aleppo) explores many different relationships in Songbirds Рin terms of power and control, love and longing, past and future. It is set in her native Cyprus, and much of what she writes in Songbirds is based on conversations with domestic workers there; workers from other lands seeking to better the lives of their families, even at the sacrifice of distance.

Songbirds will leave you feeling sad, frustrated, confused and annoyed. But at its heart, the characters who look after one another and care for individuals will encourage you to look after and appreciate the little ones in life – even if they are as frail and exposed as the songbirds.

Van Apfel Girls – Why are they missing?

My daughter commented the other day about how many new books she had read recently were now using flashbacks and multiple viewpoints*. This may have related to the genre she has been reading (several crime and mystery stories), but I certainly reflected on this comment as I read ‘the Van Apfel Girls are Gone’ – flashbacks are crucial.

The story itself reflects back to “the long hot summer of 1992, the summer the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – vanished…” (Blurb on the back cover)

Told by one of the girls’ friends and neighbours, Tikka, it is a tale of pondering, wondering and wishing. What if Tikka had…? What if people had noticed…? What if friends and neighbours had…?

Twenty years after the girls went missing, Tikka returns to her family home to be with her older sister, Laura, who has tragically been diagnosed with cancer. Also told from the point of view of an eleven-year-old girl, it provides a young viewpoint, as remembered by Tikka.

Together and separately, Tikka and Laura think about the events leading up to the girls’ disappearance, and the seeds are sown for the reader to contemplate what actually happened – and why. The recollections of others are also finally laid out for Tikka and Laura to ponder.

In spite of the title, you are never quite sure what happens to the Van Apfel girls, but there are lots of dim, dark secrets revealed along the way. Some of the nuggets of information are cleverly hidden in the story (while others may be distractors) so that you are never quite sure what will happen next, or what is the real impact of (several) people keeping observations to themselves.

# Does this story leave you with all the answers?

## How does this story make you feel about keeping secrets?

Recommended 15+

# Nominated for the Indie Book Awards 2020 for the best Australian books published in 2019 – category Debut Fiction.

* She was recently reading ‘See What I Have Done’ by Sarah Schmidt and ‘the Secret of the Tides’ by Hannah Richell.