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

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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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 ...
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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...continued

Full Review (847 words).

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(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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

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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 ...

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