The diplomat and the bird, a polar fable | Polarjournal

A contemporary French diplomat, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor projects himself into the year 2048, when the Antarctic Treaty expires, the balance of power shifts towards mining or maintaining the embargo, and it becomes possible to communicate with birds.

Last January, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, France’s ambassador for the poles and oceans, wrote a futuristic novel in the guise of a “birdie”, imagining the changing destiny of Antarctica in 2048, after Greenland’s “Great Meltdown”. Two amorous Arctic terns living “two summers a year” take the reader on their migration to the Southern Hemisphere at the end of the boreal summer. The pair must separate to take different routes before meeting again at an international summit at the South Pole and bringing their lucid chirps among the voices representing animal civil society.

Whatever happens to the planet, this dystopia depicts a world that has not escaped flames, migration and rising waters. Human greed continues its work “in a world that is leaving us”, says the writer-diplomat during an interview in a bookshop in Brest, France. In the loom of this dark futurology pigmented with dashes of hope, the threads of great myths and destinies, such as that of Alexander the Great, intertwine with the fate of the characters.

Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea). Photo: Andreas Trepte / Wikimedia Commons

In this fiction, the boundaries between humans and animals become blurred. Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, on a visit to Brest, also confided: “I wanted to speak on behalf of the birds”, “there is between 100 and 400 billion of them”, “their eyesight is different from ours”. He takes on the role of narrator, and imagines himself retired at a time when we can communicate with birds and even transform ourselves into terns. Without the metamorphosis and its processes slowing down the narrative, the author suspends it with asides and addresses the reader directly, explaining “his unilateral decision”. It relies on future technical progress and the capacity for abstraction of those who read it.

The author crosses borders with his characters, bringing together multiple universes that are often perceived as parallel. He depicts technological solutions, environmental movements, ventures on either side of proclamations of sovereignty, relays animal resentments against humanity, shifts from scientific to literary rigor, and from his ambassador’s souvenirs to a spectator’s eye. It raises questions but blurs the lines of bias. Except one: love for his daughter, to whom the novel is perhaps dedicated.

The book is aimed, not without a sense of humor, at fans of politics, science, travel, history or polar regions. It’s a literal hybrid, written with an accessible style, combining in a chiaroscuro, sensitive and informative, real and fabulous. It borrows from the poetry of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, the narrative freedom of Moby-Dick and the captivating effectiveness of The Little Prince.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

Deux étés par an, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, January 24, 2024, Edition Stock, 20.90 euros (French)

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