Woman travels to exotic location. Finds love, finds herself. If it wasn’t already, I assume this has been a popular theme for novels since Eat, Pray, Love. I say “assume” because I honestly have no idea – I’ve never read any such book, nor had any interest in doing so. Until Laws of Migration. So why this one? It has birds, of course! And I thought it would be nice to try something different.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that instead of birds, Laws of Migration has a birder. Elize, through whose point of view the story is told, is a forty-year-old ornithologist working for a new bird institute on the Texas Gulf Coast. But she is jilted when the institute, in which she has invested much time and effort to get off the ground, names someone else as its director. Needing to get away, she leaves for Morocco to participate in a long-anticipated migration study. Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned. She finds it hard to get where she needs to be, but in the process meets Erik, a mysterious man she keeps encountering. She eventually makes her way to the group doing the migration study. But Elize, who has always been fascinated with ibis, finds it hard to resist attempting to find a Northern Bald Ibis. This critically endangered bird’s last stronghold is a national park in Morocco. And then there’s Erik…
I have to say that I enjoyed the plot. The first two-thirds or so I found especially compelling. However, a novel such as this, especially as it is told first person, is only as good as its main character. Elize is an interesting character and, naturally, has a requisite quirk – an OCD-like compulsion to count things. I suppose that if you’re going to give a birder some eccentric trait, that’s an obvious one. She carries the book well, but does some head-scratchingly stupid things at times. Most end up being better understood later, as more of her backstory is given. But one act in particular is completely reprehensible, almost to the point of making the character irredeemable to me. From that point on, I had much less interest in what happens to Elize (thankfully it was toward the end of the story).
And now to what I’m sure is an even more important matter for most of you – how does the author treat birds and birding? I was pleasantly surprised to find the answer to that question to be “extremely well”. I don’t know if Frank is a birder, but if not she certainly did her research. With a few exceptions, the terminology, birds, and birders were all used appropriately. Elize, as a hardcore birder, thinks about birds a lot and that is manifested by many bird references. For example, to her the sea was “as blue as an indigo bunting’s wing”. My only problem with these references is that at times too many were used too closely together. I found other bird references quite clever and amusing. Elize’s disparaging assessment of a “taxonomist” college was that she “probably couldn’t identify a Laughing Gull if it still had a heartbeat and guts”.
I’m not exactly the target audience for Laws of Migration, and I didn’t figure to ever read anything classified as “women’s fiction”. But I have to admit that reading it wasn’t that bad. Overall, it was a pretty good story that was well-written. If you’re a birder that enjoys this genre, I would recommend it.
If you’d like to know more about the novel and the author’s writing process, check out the author’s blog.
Reviewed by Grant McCreary on July 15th, 2013.
Disclosure: The item reviewed here was a complementary review copy provided by the publisher. But the opinion expressed here is my own, it has not been bought in any way.