Excerpt from Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy X
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 272 pages
    Jul 6, 2021, 288 pages


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I pause on the crest of the hill to look once more, and the wind calms a moment. The ice spreads wide and dazzling, edged by a black-and- white ocean and a distant gray horizon. Great shards of cerulean ice float languidly by, even now within the heart of summer. And dozens of Arctic terns fill the white of sky and earth. The last of them, perhaps in the world. If I were capable of staying any place, it might be here. But the birds won't stay, and neither will I.

My rental car is blessedly warm with the heating on full blast. I hold my frozen hands over the vent and feel my skin prickle. A folder of papers sits on the passenger seat and I fumble through them, looking for the name. Ennis Malone. Captain of the Saghani. I have tried seven captains of seven boats and I think maybe the persistently mad part of me wanted them to fail the second I saw the name of this last boat. The Saghani: an Inuit word for raven.

I scan the facts I've managed to learn. Malone was born in Alaska forty-nine years ago. He 's married to Saoirse and they have two young children. His vessel is one of the last legally certified to fish for Atlantic herring, and he does so with a crew of seven. According to the marina schedule the Saghani should be docked in Tasiilaq for the next two nights.

I put Tasiilaq into my GPS and set off slowly on the cold road. The town will take all day to reach. I leave the Arctic Circle and head south, pondering my approach. Each of the captains I have asked has refused me. They don't abide untrained strangers on board. Nor do they like their routines disrupted, routes shifted—sailors are superstitious folk, I have learned. Creatures of pattern. Especially now, with their way of life under threat. Just as we have been steadily killing off the animals of land and sky, the fishermen have fished the sea almost to extinction.

The thought of being aboard one of these merciless vessels with people who lay waste to the ocean makes my skin crawl, but I'm out of options, and I'm running out of time.

A field of green stretches to my right, punctured with a thousand white smudges I think at first are stalks of cotton, but it's only the speed of the car blurring everything; in fact they are ivory wildflowers. To my left, a dark sea crashes. A world apart. I could forget the mission, try to swallow the compulsion. Find some rustic hut and hunker down. Garden and walk and watch the birds slowly vanish. The thought darts through my mind, inconstant. Sweetness would turn sour and even a sky as big as this one would soon feel a cage. I won't be staying; even if I were capable of it, Niall would never forgive me.

I book a cheap hotel room and dump my pack on the bed. The floor is covered with ugly yellow carpet but there 's a view of the fjord lapping at the hill's foot. Across the stretch of water rear gray mountains, cut through with veins of snow. Less snow than there once was. A warmer world. While my laptop powers on, I wash my salty face and brush my furred teeth. The shower calls, but first I need to log my activity.

I write up the tagging of the three terns and then open the tracking software with a lungful of air I'm too nervous to let out. The sight of the blinking red lights melts me with relief. I've had no idea if this would work, but here they are, three little birds that will fly south for the winter and, if everything goes to plan, take me with them.

Once I'm showered, scrubbed, and warmly dressed, I shove a few papers in my backpack and head out, pausing briefly at the front desk to ask the young receptionist where the best pub is. She considers me, probably deciding which age bracket of entertainment she should recommend, and then tells me to try the bar on the harbor. "There is also Klubben, but I think it will be too ... fast for you." She adds a giggle to this.

I smile, and feel ancient.

The walk through Tasiilaq is hilly and lovely. Colorful houses perch on the uneven terrain, red and blue and yellow, and such a contrast to the wintry world beyond. They're like cheerful toys dotting the hills; everything feels smaller under the gaze of those imperious mountains. A sky is a sky is a sky, and yet here, somehow, it's more. It's bigger. I sit and watch the icebergs floating through the fjord awhile, and I can't stop thinking about the tern and her heart beating inside my palm. I can still feel the thrumming pat pat pat and when I press my hand to my chest I imagine our pulses in time. What I can't feel is my nose, so I head to the bar. I'd be willing to bet everything I own (which at this point isn't much) on the fact that if there 's a fishing boat docked in town, its sailors will spend every one of their waking moments on the lash.

Excerpted from Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. Copyright © 2020 by Charlotte McConaghy. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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