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Book review: "Migrations"

By Aileen Xie April 28, 2021

Rating: (5/5) Pros: deeply moving, complex plot, well-developed main character. Cons: disturbing content, melodrama, occasional implausibility.

Humanity has grown accustomed to settling down, leaving nomadism in the past and instead choosing to nestle in homes. As we plant our roots in the soil, we familiarize ourselves with the people and environment surrounding us, building relationships with both. But this lifestyle has not been embraced by everyone—especially not Franny Stone, the narrator of Charlotte McConaghy’s 2019 eco-fiction novel “Migrations.”

An emotionally detached, self-proclaimed ornithologist, Franny follows what could be the last remaining colony of arctic terns as they embark on their final migration to Antarctica to find shelter from the plight of climate change. Joining a motley crew of fishers in Greenland, they offer her a spot on their boat, Saghani, if she promises to help lead them to a long-sought fishing jackpot with her tracking technology. Unable to shoulder the trauma of her past, Franny directs her own migration to a different destination: death. As the boat sails further south, Franny’s dark history begins to unravel and, paired with the dangers at sea, threatens the safety and trust of the crew, forcing Franny to ask herself what she is truly running from.

McConaghy weaves Franny’s past into her present through a nonlinear narration, written in snippets of her backstory

Set in the near future, “Migrations” voyages into a solemn yet highly possible rendering of our natural world: one where wildlife has died out due to climate change. Such a world devoid of life reflects Franny’s own story, which has suffered from familial abandonment, imprisonment and estrangement from her ecologist husband, Niall. Convinced that she can unload the cargo of her burdened history if she leaves the people and places that harbor such memories, Franny becomes a wanderer. The Saghani team—headed by Ennis Malone—skeptically accepts Franny on board, believing her pursuit of the Arctic birds to be professionally driven. However, her true intentions and identity are gradually revealed with each passing day, intensified by night terrors, unsent letters to her beloved husband and an obsession with tracing the birds at any cost.

McConaghy weaves Franny’s past into her present through a nonlinear narration, written in snippets of her backstory, from first meeting Niall to accidentally committing horrible crimes. As the novel progresses, the birds’ flightpath—and Franny’s sanity—grow more convoluted. The unreliable narration style serves to disorient the reader and simultaneously reveal Franny’s inability to recognize that her narcissistic self-pity has devastating effects on others.

When we “migrate” away from self-responsibility, we also migrate towards self-destruction.

Shaped by her unfortunate childhood, Franny views new people as malicious. In turn, she chooses to remain ignorant of others’ feelings. As her own greatest self-advocate, she is also the greatest threat to each of her commitments. In this way, McConaghy subtly connects Franny’s disregard of the potential good in people to humanity’s disregard for the health of our planet; deep down, we are all self-serving. When we “migrate” away from self-responsibility, we also migrate towards self-destruction. “Migrations” insists that humans are still animals: subject to the ruthless forces of nature and the unpredictable consequences of impulsive choices.


About the Contributor

Aileen Xie

Viewpoint Editor

Aileen Xie is a junior and the Viewpoint Page Editor. She likes watching movies with complicated plots (so that she has something to think about when distracted from schoolwork), reading science fiction, and she occasionally draws a thing or two when in an artistic mood. She always needs to listen to music when doing work.

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