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Already an international bestseller, Charlotte McConaghy’s debut, MIGRATIONS, is a tender, sweeping novel about an impossible journey of survival, redemption and hope.

Born with the family curse of wanderlust, Franny Stone has always loved deeply and with devotion, yet inevitably she finds herself following her feet to wherever they might lead her: a historic library in Ireland, a wooden house by the sea where her mother once lived, an animal sanctuary in Scotland. When she meets Niall Lynch, a university lecturer as devoted to birds as she is, she finally finds somewhere to stay, to build a proverbial nest and to nurture the love she has been seeking since the day her mother walked out on her.

Together Franny and Niall study the effects of climate change around them. In a near future or reimagined present, they watch as entire swaths of species go extinct --- first the animals pushed out by humans’ incessant building and deforesting (bears, wolves, etc.), and later the ones tortured by our greed: oceans devoid of fish that have been pulled ashore to overfeed our growing populations; birds that can no longer survive their long migration south without fish and seed to eat along the way.

"...a tender, sweeping novel about an impossible journey of survival, redemption and hope.... Heartbreaking, moving and invigorating, MIGRATIONS is a love letter to our world and an ode to our times."

When we meet Franny, she is on a quest to follow the Arctic tern, a species of bird known for making the longest migration of all, from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle --- a roundtrip journey of about 18,600 miles. Although nearly every other variety of bird and other animal has gone extinct, Franny believes, along with her husband, that the tern has been able to withstand climate change because of years of miraculous survival on one of the most treacherous trips in the world. Though Niall is content to stay home to study and lecture, Franny knows that she alone must migrate with the terns and figure out once and for all how many of them, if any, have survived humanity’s attack on the planet. But first she’ll need a ship.

Franny already has been denied by seven other captains --- superstitious men who don’t want untrained strangers aboard, especially with their way of life under attack from activists and policymakers. But when she hears about the Sanghani (Inuit for “raven”), something tells her that she has found her vessel. After a disastrous and hilarious meet-cute of sorts, Franny finds herself aboard the commercial ship captained by Ennis Malone, an Alaskan manning a crew of six men and one woman from drastically different backgrounds. Though they are quick to judge and even ridicule Franny, she is a hard worker who is not afraid to get dirty, bleed and fall into bed halfway dead, and she soon earns their respect as part of the crew.

However, amid their banter, poker nights and ship maintenance, a current of tension runs between them. Fishermen have come under scrutiny in the dying world for their continuous emptying of the sea and carbon footprints. The crew knows that Franny, a bird migration obsessive, must agree with the masses that they are nothing better than climate change deniers, murderers of entire species. And yet, as Franny starts to become a seawoman herself, she finds that there is an undeniable beauty in what the crew has found themselves called to do. No one but a fool doesn’t fear the sea, and in carving out entire livelihoods for themselves on nature’s cruelest and most unpredictable surfaces, these fishermen and women have developed a sort of mutual respect and adulation that even some of Franny’s activist friends have never quite found.

Tracking three Arctic terns that Franny tagged with GPS devices, the Sanghani makes its way south, battling stormy seas, changing laws and their own inner demons. But as their lives are braided together and their desires for the journey to end --- either in flames or in glory --- grow, it is revealed that Franny has not been entirely truthful with them. Her demons have the power to end them all, and until she can confront her past, present and future, she has put the ship at huge, unavoidable risk. In alternating chapters, we see the tragic, life-changing moments that brought Franny to Ennis, the Sanghani and the rest of the crew, and how they unfold on her migration south. Written with equal parts devastation and hope, this book is a searing, crystalline tribute to the natural world and all of its beauties.

McConaghy’s prose is gorgeous but can feel inaccessible early on, especially as she is introducing readers to Franny. While Franny has become one of my favorite characters thus far, she is entirely unique, which while refreshing can also make her difficult to pin down. She is clever but naive at times; deeply devoted but prone to fickleness; full to the brim with hope but weighed down by unexamined tragedies and darkness. Once you get the heart of Franny, though, the novel unfolds quickly and becomes utterly unputdownable.

Her fierceness is matched and challenged by that of the Sanghani’s crew, as well as the ferociousness of the sea around them. It makes for some nearly unbearable tension, but also some powerful, poignant scenes of universalism and emotional wisdom. It is difficult and often painful to read about a world without animals --- no birdsong in the national forests, no deer at the edge of your yard, no fish in the ocean or on your plate --- yet by channeling Franny and the indomitable crew of the Sanghani, McConaghy infuses the book with breathtaking hope.

Heartbreaking, moving and invigorating, MIGRATIONS is a love letter to our world and an ode to our times. It will force you to confront the wastefulness of the world around you while celebrating its remaining beauty and the will of its animals to adapt, overcome and survive.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 9, 2021

by Charlotte McConaghy

  • Publication Date: July 6, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250204038
  • ISBN-13: 9781250204035