Learner Spotlight: Winter ESL Book Club Explores “Songbirds”

Learner Spotlight: Winter ESL Book Club Explores “Songbirds”

The Winter English as a Second Language (ESL) Book Club  at the Literacy Council met for three sessions and enjoyed the poetic words and moving story of Christy Lefteri in Songbirds. It was an edge of your seat read that had elements of literary fiction as well as mystery and suspense. Lefteri, a child of Cyprus and refugee herself, understood the difficult world that refugees and migrants navigate as she told of the disappearance of Nisha, a domestic worker who vanished one Sunday night. We hear of Nisha’s story through the alternating viewpoint of Petra, her employer and Yiannis, her lover.

No character is one dimensional in this tale, and we are struck by the multifaceted nature of what it means to be human.  The police refuse to investigate because of their preconceived notions as to the habits of migrant workers, believing that five missing women and their two children “just moved on.”  Obviously, they are part of a broken system, and Lefteri expertly guides us to the revelation that we must “respect every single human being and every single animal as we do ourselves.”

We met on Zoom and the students and volunteer tutors engaged in lively discussions about the many aspects of this remarkable book.  The interest in this book was great and led to a discussion of Lefteri’s other works.  She has also written a best seller The Beekeeper of Aleppo about refugees in Syria and many of the book club members showed an interest in reading it, as others had read and discussed it a bit.  Her next work is going to be about climate change and how if effects the people and animals of Greece in the fires that raged there and destroyed some of their forests.

We enjoyed having a large turnout of students and tutors.  Members of the Book Club included the following students:  Y Rhee, Jamila T., Natta S., Jacqueline B., Maria V., Rosilene F., Annie D., Eseaphany C., and Blanca Z. as well as tutors:  Nancy Z., Ysabel S., Robert E., Lisa O., Barbara P., and Jill G.  The students were very enthusiastic about reading Lefteri’s book and participating in a book club during a Maryland winter.  Following the final session, everyone gathered at Delizia Cafe in downtown Frederick to socialize and pose for a photo with participation certificates provided by the Literacy Council.

Maria shared the following based on her experience:

I would like to say thank you for excellently preparing the Power Point for each Book Club meeting. I loved the book Songbirds from start to finish because it keeps you guessing what will happen in the next chapter. Also, I liked the author’s way of writing. I liked how Christy Lefteri writes and her point of view as the daughter of immigrants. I have recommended reading this book to my sons and my friends. In this book I learned that in Cyprus, they eat birds as delicacy.  Although in my country we eat quail, pheasants, and wood pigeons, which are small species of fowls, but not as small as birds. I was shocked by the idea of eating birds, even though we eat chickens, but maybe it’s the way that the birds die that bothered me. I think that in Chapter 1 there is the summary of the book, and the sentence that I liked the most is: “One day, Nisha vanished and turned to gold. She turned to gold in the eyes of the creature that stood before me. She turned to gold in the morning sky and the music of the birds.”

We have been holding the Book Club for several years now, and have read such books as The Distance Between Us: Memoir by Reyna Grande, Enrique’s Journeys by Sonia Nazario, A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine, The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Parks and anthologiesComing of Age in the 21st Century edited by Mary Frosch and Coming of Age Around the World also edited by Mary Frosch and Faith Adiele

We are always open for suggestions for upcoming Book Club meetings, which will be in the summer.  Both tutors and students are welcome, but space is limited and is first come first serve. An announcement will be made in our upcoming class schedule for the Summer Sessions.

Many thanks to Catherine Coundjeris, Book Club Facilitator, Writing Classes Instructor, and volunteer ESL Coordinator with the Literacy Council.