Summary and book reviews of On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea

by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee X
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2014, 432 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

Excerpt
On Such a Full Sea

It is known where we come from, but no one much cares about things like that anymore. We think, Why bother? Except for a lucky few, everyone is from someplace, but that someplace, it turns out, is gone. You can search it, you can find pix or vids that show what the place last looked like, in our case a gravel-colored town of stoop-shouldered buildings on a riverbank in China, shorn hills in the distance. Rooftops a mess of wires and junk. The river tea-still, a swath of black. And blunting it all is a haze that you can almost smell, a smell, you think, you don't want to breathe in.

So what does it matter if the town was razed one day, after our people were trucked out? What difference does it make that there's almost nothing there now? It was on the other side of the world, which might as well be a light-year away. Though probably it was mourned when it was thriving. People are funny that way; even the most miserable kind of circumstance can inspire...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel is narrated by a collective voice of B-Mor residents, telling the story of Fan from a distance of some years. Why do you think the author chose to narrate the book this way? What does the collective narration add to the book? How might it read differently if it had been told as a much closer third-person narration? What if it had been told by Fan herself?
  2. How does the author implicitly explain this narrator's ability to describe events that happened beyond the physical limits of B-Mor?
  3. Legend and storytelling are major themes in the story itself-from the legend of Fan as it is narrated by the collective B-Mor residents to (within that larger story) the story Quig tells Fan about his past, the tale that Fan has heard about the ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

On Such a Full Sea succeeds at painting isolation, this attention to wearying toil above all else...Where Sea really scores however, is in outlining the deep political costs of such alienation. In a society gone dangerously awry, Lee implies the worst kind of sin is apathy.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (847 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
With On Such a Full Sea, he has found a new way to explore his old preoccupation: the oft-told tale of the desperate, betraying, lonely human heart.

GQ
Should every talented novelist have a go at dystopia? Probably not, but we can thank the gods of chaos that the trendy genre fell into the hands of Chang-rae Lee.

O, The Oprah Magazine
[The] haunting On Such a Full Sea . . . recalls the work of Cormac McCarthy and Kazuo Ishiguro . . . With its appealing protagonist as narrative glue, On Such a Full Sea layers stories within stories, building to its final, resonant catharsis.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lee's descriptions of their images—which start as truth and then careen into a fantastic blend of imagination and interpretation—are beautiful metaphors for the way stories take on lives of their own

Booklist
Starred Review. Always entrancing and delving, [Lee] has taken fresh approaches to storytelling in each of his previous four novels, but he takes a truly radical leap in this wrenching yet poetic, philosophical, even mystical speculative odyssey.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Control, individuality, nature, perfection, reality, society - all that and more fill this dystopic treatise about a not-so-futuristic, ruined America...[for] readers who enjoy a heart-thumping adventure and doctoral students in search of a superlative dissertation text.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Welcome and surprising proof that there's plenty of life in end-of-the-world storytelling.

Reader Reviews

Student at Millburn High School

Artistic writing style, mediocre story telling
I am a high school student. Over the summer of 2014, my entire high school (all four years) read this book for summer reading. I experienced much difficulty in trying to advance from page to page in this book. I even surveyed my classmates, none of ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Urban Aquaculture

Fan, the protagonist in On Such a Full Sea, works in a large fish tank. She tends to the fish that are being bred and makes sure the system is working in fine form. Such farms are part of B-Mor's economic system and the output they generate is shipped to the Charters beyond B-Mor's gates.

self-sustaining aquaculture tanksAs the temperature of oceans continues to rise, creating unstable environments for large-scale fishing, and as the world population keeps increasing, fish farming or aquaculture, which can be done in oceans, ponds or tanks, has been increasingly used to supplement diets.

The two primary types of aquaculture include extensive aquaculture where the chemical composition of ponds is altered so as to increase the production of phytoplankton and ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Chang-rae Lee

If you liked On Such a Full Sea, try these:

  • All Our Wrong Todays jacket

    All Our Wrong Todays

    by Elan Mastai

    Published 2018

    About this book

    Filled with humor and heart, and saturated with insight and intelligence and a mind-bending talent for invention, this novel signals the arrival of a major talent.

  • Night of the Animals jacket

    Night of the Animals

    by Bill Broun

    Published 2017

    About this book

    In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah's Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Ahmad and his PianoAeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Smiling Man
    The Smiling Man
    by Joseph Knox
    Joseph Knox's latest turns on a simple premise: an unidentified and unidentifiable murdered man is ...
  • Book Jacket: The Heavens
    The Heavens
    by Sandra Newman
    I've been a big fan of Sandra Newman's writing ever since reading her 2014 novel The Country of Ice ...
  • Book Jacket: Sugar Run
    Sugar Run
    by Mesha Maren
    Mesha Maren's debut novel is a plunge into the depths of the dark Southern gothic with pulsing and ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    American Princess
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    Rated 4.9 stars by BookBrowse members - one of the highest scores of all time!
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.