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Likely Stories: Migrations: A Novel, by Charlotte McConaghy


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

It is not often I see a new novel, open to the first page, and then buy and begin reading.  But it has happened now.  Furthermore, Charlotte McConaghy’s first novel Migrations, is by an unknown writer.  As I began to read, I gathered the subject of the novel revolved around the effects of climate change, overfishing in the oceans, and attempts to find the last flock of Arctic terns.  I was immediately overcome with the beauty of her prose.  She—and several other characters--also migrate.


McConaghy begins, “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 the ocean” (3). 

Franny Stone loves birds.  She is desperate to find a fishing boat that will take her on to further her research.  Charlotte writes, “I have been out here alone for six days.  My tent was blown into the sea last night, as wind and rain lashed it from my body.  I’ve been pecked on the skull and hands more than a dozen times by birds who have been named the most protective in the sky.  But I have three banded Arctic terns to show for my efforts.  And veins filled with salt” (5).  Franny is determined to continue her research.

She stops in a tavern frequented by fisherman, who are reluctant to allow an untrained and inexperienced woman on their boat.  She says, “Tonight, the task I need to get myself onto their boat” (21). 

Finally, she convinces the captain to allow her on the boat.  The ship is the Saghani.  Charlotte writes, “I pull my windbreaker tighter about me; even with three thermals underneath I’m still cold, but it feels good.  Freezing wind bites at my cheeks and lips, drying them, cracking them.  I am being allowed a rare break from my duties to witness the passage.  Up in the bridge stands Ennis, carefully navigating his vessel through the dangerous ice.  I can see him through persistently salt-rimed glass and under an angry gray sky […].  The others make a steady route from stern to bow, monitoring the ship’s passage and watching for chunks big enough to cause damage to the hull” (31).

This exciting and dangerous trip is only the beginning of this story.  Charlotte McConaghy’s debut novel, Migrations, is a fantastic one that will keep you on the edge of an iceberg!  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.