On Such A Full SeaBook - 2014
"I've never been a fan of grand hyperbolic declarations in book reviews, but faced with On Such a Full Sea , I have no choice but to ask: Who is a greater novelist than Chang-rae Lee today?"--Porochista Khakpour, The Los Angeles Times
From the beloved award-winning author of Native Speaker and The Surrendered , a highly provocative, deeply affecting story of one woman's legendary quest in a shocking, future America.
On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-rae Lee's elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in.
In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class--descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China--find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.
In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan's journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.
From the critics
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If you’re a reader of dystopian literary fiction (think Margaret Atwood’s most recent book, *MaddAddam*), then I have something to keep you happily occupied while spring gets its act together. Acclaimed author Chang-Rae Lee (Pulitzer Prize finalist for *The Surrendered*) is back with a beautifully rendered, deeply creepy work of speculative fiction. *On Such a Full Sea* follows the travails of a young woman named Fan, raised since birth in an incredibly strict factory town. B-Mor was founded by Chinese immigrants fleeing their homeland’s environmental destruction. B-Mor was established on Baltimore’s remnants, following an invasion that drove out the city’s 21st century inhabitants (subsequently called “the natives”). This appears to have taken place after the United States suffered a social and environmental crisis of its own. On an otherwise nondescript day, Fan’s boyfriend Reg disappears without a trace. Rumours speculate he’s been kidnapped by a pharmacorp after his genes were found to be completely resistant to cancer, now rampant in the world’s population. As with disappearances in other totalitarian societies, Reg’s merits little official comment, and his family and friends must suffer his loss without much acknowledgement. Fan, however, breaks free of B-Mor into the wild surrounding Counties, where no fixed government reigns and there’s no protection from toxins. The narrator tracks Fan’s compulsive, haphazard movements through the Counties searching for Reg. In fact, the narrator is one of this novel’s greatest curiosities. He or she is plainly a resident of B-Mor who is decreasingly interested in appearing to have consumed the proverbial kool-aid. So, then, how does the narrator know what’s happening to Fan? Why trust the narrator? It’s never resolved, and this adds to the weird, panopticon-like tension experienced by the reader. Part action novel, part social study, *On Such a Full Sea* is a richly realized cautionary tale offering no easy answers. It is very highly recommended to any readers of literary fiction who don’t mind an occasional tour into murky dystopia.
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