Summary and book reviews of Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations

A Novel

by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy X
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
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  • Published:
    Aug 2020, 272 pages

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Book Summary

For readers of Flight Behavior and Station Eleven, a novel set on the brink of catastrophe, as a young woman chases the world's last birds―and her own final chance for redemption.

A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK (Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Time, Vulture, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Newsweek, The Millions, Library Journal, Maclean's, and more)

Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean's tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she loves begins to disappear, Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world's last flock of Arctic terns and follow them on their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her onboard, winning over his eccentric crew with promises that the birds she is tracking will lead them to fish.

As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny's new shipmates begin to realize that she is full of dark secrets: night terrors, an unsent pile of letters, and an obsession with pursuing the terns at any cost. When the story of her past begins to unspool, Ennis and his crew must ask themselves what Franny is really running toward―and running from.

Propelled by a narrator as fierce and fragile as the terns she is following, Migrations is both an ode to our threatened world and a breathtaking page-turner about the lengths we will go for the people we love.

1

The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here.

Once, my husband found a colony of storm petrels on the rocky coast of the untamed Atlantic. The night he took me there, I didn't know they were some of the last of their kind. I knew only that they were fierce in their night caves and bold as they dove through moonlit waters. We stayed a time with them, and for those few dark hours we were able to pretend we were the same, as wild and free. Once, when the animals were going, really and truly and not just in warnings of dark futures but now, right now, in mass extinctions we could see and feel, I decided to follow a bird over an ocean. Maybe I was hoping it would lead me to where they'd all fled, all those of its kind, all the creatures we thought we'd killed. Maybe I thought I'd discover whatever cruel thing drove me to leave people and places and everything, always. Or maybe I was just hoping the bird's final migration would show me a place to belong. .

Once, it was birds who gave ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel's epigraph is taken from a poem by Rumi: "Forget safety. / Live where you fear to live." How does that directive resonate throughout Franny's life? Do you think it's good advice?
  2. Discuss the novel's first lines: "The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here." How does the disappearance of wildlife in mass extinctions shape the characters and plot? What are the similarities and differences between Franny's world and our own? Would you describe this novel as dystopian? Why or why not?
  3. Arctic terns have the longest natural migration of any animal, and during their lives they may travel the equivalent distance of to the moon and back three times. What do Arctic terns symbolize in the novel, and why are Franny and Niall...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The author describes a future we do not want. But her bleak vision is only one element of this engrossing story. The novel is also a warm combination of a love story, a perilous journey, a dark back story that is only gradually revealed, echoes of classics (Moby Dick, Jules Verne and Hans Christian Andersen immediately come to mind, along with tales of orphans) and mesmerizing nature writing... Just as Flight Behavior changes the way its readers look at and think about butterflies, and The Overstory does that for trees, so does Migrations for birds (Deborah W)...continued

Full Review Members Only (636 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Visceral and haunting…As well as a first-rate work of climate fiction, Migrations is also a clever reimagining of Moby-Dick…This novel’s prose soars with its transporting descriptions of the planet’s landscapes and their dwindling inhabitants, and contains many wonderful meditations on our responsibilities to our earthly housemates…Migrations is a nervy and well-crafted novel, one that lingers long after its voyage is over.

The Washington Post
The beauty and the heartbreak of this novel is that it’s not preposterous. It feels true and affecting, elegiac and imminent...The fractured timeline fills each chapter with suspense and surprises, parceled out so tantalizingly that it took disciplined willpower to keep from skipping down each page to see what happens...In many ways, this is a story about grieving, an intimate tale of anguish set against the incalculable bereavements of climate change...Ultimately hopeful.

The Guardian
An aching and poignant book, and one that’s pressing in its timeliness. It’s often devastating in its depictions of grief, especially the wider, harder to grasp grief of living in a world that has changed catastrophically…But it’s also a book about love, about trying to understand and accept the creatureliness that exists within our selves, and what it means to be a human animal, that we might better accommodate our own wildness within the world.

TIME
Thrilling…In piecing together who this mysterious protagonist really is, McConaghy creates a detailed portrait of a woman on the cusp of collapse, consumed with a world that is every bit as broken as she is. Migrations offers a grim window into a future that doesn’t feel very removed from our own, which makes Franny’s voice all the more powerful. In understanding how nature can heal us, McConaghy underlines why it urgently needs to be protected.

The Wall Street Journal
A good nautical adventure…Migrations moves at a fast, exciting clip, motored as much by love for ‘creatures that aren’t human’ as by outrage at their destruction.

Elle
[A] tantalizingly beautiful epic.

Vulture
You can practically hear the glaciers cracking to pieces and the shrill yelps of the circling terns.

Vogue
Suspenseful, atmospheric…As much a mystery as an odyssey.

Harper's Bazaar
At a time when it feels like we’re at the end of the world, this novel about a different kind of end of the world serves as both catharsis and escape.

Newsweek
An ode to our disappearing natural world.

Literary Hub
Gorgeous…A personal reckoning that cuts right to the heart. This beautiful novel is an ode--if not an elegy--to an endangered planet and the people and places we love.

Los Angeles Times
“Powerful…Vibrant…Unique…If worry is the staple emotion that most climate fiction evokes in its readers, Migrations — the novelistic equivalent of an energizing cold plunge — flutters off into more expansive territory…McConaghy has a gift for sketching out enveloping, memorable characters using only the smallest of strokes… Migrations, rather than struggle to convince readers of some plan of environmental action, instead puts humans in their place.

Library Journal (starred review)
[Migrations] could be taking place in two years or 20 years, but it could just as well be happening today…A consummate blend of issue and portrait, warning and affirmation, this heartbreaking, lushly written work is highly recommended.

Booklist (starred review)
Transfixing, gorgeously precise…[The] evocation of a world bereft of wildlife is piercing; Franny’s otherworldliness is captivating, and her extreme misadventures and anguished secrets are gripping.

Shelf Awareness
At times devastating and, at others, surprisingly, undeniably hopeful…Brimming with stunning imagery and raw emotion, Migrations is the incredible story of personal redemption, self-forgiveness and hope for the future in the face of a world on the brink of collapse.

Maclean’s Magazine
An exceptional novel that is both elegy and page-turning thriller.

Author Blurb Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven
Migrations is as beautiful and as wrenching as anything I've ever read. This is an extraordinary novel by a wildly talented writer.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord and March
This novel is enchanting, but not in some safe, fairy-tale sense. Charlotte McConaghy has harnessed the rough magic that sears our souls. I recommend Migrations with my whole heart.

Author Blurb Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept
Migrations is a wonder. I read it in a gasp. There is hope in these pages; a balm for these troubled times. Charlotte McConaghy's words cut through to the bone.

Author Blurb Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild
An astounding meditation on love, trauma, and the cost of survival. A true force of a book that I read holding my breath from its start to its symphonic finish.

Author Blurb Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World
Migrations is indeed about loss--but what makes it miraculous is that it is also about hope. Written in prose as gorgeous as the crystalline beauty of the Arctic, Migrations is deeply moving, haunting, and, yes, important.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

brilliant novel.
“I lie in the sea and feel more lost than ever, because I’m not meant to be homesick, I’m not meant to long for the things I have always been so desperate to leave. It isn’t fair to be the kind of creature who is able to love but unable to stay.” ...   Read More

Ruthie

So Many Layers!
I love a novel that defies my expectations and takes me on a journey. Migrations has so many layers and explores so many themes, and yet the author masterfully ties everything together in a hauntingly beautiful tale. Franny is a character unlike any ...   Read More

Margaret H. (Springfield, VA)

Migrations
At first I thought it would be a light romance of a young girl and her professor, but it is much deeper than that. Instead it is a book of different themes. Yes, it is a strange romance where two people are often apart, but then it is a science ...   Read More

Carol N. (San Jose, CA)

A "must" read...
I thoroughly enjoyed Charlotte McConaghy's gripping novel of redemption, love, and survival, "Migrations." In this time of forced sheltered in place isolation, I found by reading her astounding novel, I was finally able to break my "lack of ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Arctic Tern

An Arctic tern on a rock by Bothnian Bay in Finland In Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations, Franny follows the migration of the Arctic tern (sterna paradisaea). McConaghy's novel is set in a fictional future in which the bird is on the brink of extinction. Currently, Arctic terns are not in danger to such a degree, as there are still more than one million of them around the world, but their habitats are threatened by climate change.

The Arctic tern is a small, grayish-white bird that ranges in length from about 11 to 15 inches, with a wingspan of between 25 and 30 inches. It holds the record for the longest observed migration journey of any bird; its yearly pattern runs from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back, covering a distance of at least 25,000 miles. Arctic terns breed in open, ...

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