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On Such a Full Sea

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  6,390 ratings  ·  1,052 reviews
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 pr ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Riverhead Books (first published 2014)
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Zack Hausle yes it's just not bracketed b/c it's structured as an oral history

Community Reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
”It couldn’t have been just Reg she had gone to search out. She had no real leads as to where he might be, or if he was even alive. So why would any sane person leave our cloister for such uncertainties? He was the impetus, yes, the veritable without which, but not the whole story. One person or thing can never comprise that, no matter how much one is cherished, no matter how much one is loved. A tale, like the universe, they tell us, expands ceaselessly each time you examine it, until there’s f ...more
I must say that I really wanted to like this book. As a recipient of an advanced copy I do have a desire to keep the publisher happy...but I just can't in good conscience give it higher than 2 stars.

The stars are for the writing. Lee composes beautiful sentences and has some great passages. For example:
"the rain coming down in sheets but unable to dampen any part of them." or
"maybe it's the laboring that gives you shape. Might the most fulfilling time be those spent solo at your tasks, literal
Ron Charles
The most striking dystopian novels sound an alarm, focus our attention and even change the language. “The Handmaid’s Tale” crystallized our fears about reproductive control; “Fahrenheit 451” still flames discussions of censorship; and “1984” is the lens through which we watch the Obama administration watching us.

Chang-rae Lee’s unsettling new novel, “On Such a Full Sea,” arrives from that same frightening realm of total oversight and pinched individuality. But it’s a subtler, quieter affair, mor
Wonderful prose is here for the taking in On Such a Full Sea. A 'frenzy of littering', 'the idle blather of pipe dreams', an old man who was 'stuck in a rut of wrong thinking' - fantastic stuff. So there's that. Unfortunately, the plot never really clicked into place for me and it felt as though I was just reading words, albeit words arranged in beautiful phrases.

I fear this may be a prime example of trying to read the wrong book at the wrong time syndrome. Too much going on in real life to giv
Chang-Rae Lee's "On Such a Full Sea" presents us with a dystopian vision of the future--a world of abandoned and boarded up metropolises in the U.S. that have been converted into colonies by Chinese immigrants fleeing from the toxic environment of their homes in China, which is no longer fit for human life. These colonies--D-Troy (formerly Detroit) and B-Mor (formerly Baltimore) have become gated cities where these Chinese immigrants farm fish and fresh vegetables to supply food to the wealthies ...more
A very disappointing work but one that would incite a lively discussion. The premise reminded me of Never Let Me Go, but does not match Ishiguro's novel in its execution or skill. It tries to grapple with interesting questions of what the good life is and whether it is best achieved through collectivism, individualism or some combination of both; and it presents a disturbing portrait of the artist and patron in society. But these glimpses of depth are muddled by wooden characterizations and rath ...more
At first glance, this appears to be a dystopian novel set in the future, after there has been significant environmental damage done to the planet. On second glance, this book is a philosophical novel exploring current themes of alienation, wealth, greed, ecology, freedom, and what it takes to survive in a harsh world where the only thing of value is money.


That seems to be one underlying theme of this book. At some point in the future, people with money will live in walled cities, pe
Dystopian literary fiction is an often under-appreciated and underutilised literary tool. Chang-rae Lee steps away from the historical novels he normally writes to give us On Such a Full Sea, a dystopian novel set over a hundred years into the future. The novel tells the story of a teenage girl Fan who works in the high walled, self-contained labour colony know as B-Mor (formally the city of Baltimore) who goes searching for the man she loves as he has mysteriously disappeared.

I often enjoy a no
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I should say right off the bat that I am more shocked than anyone that I didn't enjoy this book more. I had been looking forward to reading it after it ended up on numerous best-of-the-year lists, and even more so when the author was announced as part of the line-up for the 2015 Open Book series at the University of South Carolina. I try to get to a few of those every year, and have to be selective as it is a four hour trip total.

I did learn more about the background to why the author wrote this
Mary Guerrero
Uh, so boring! I love a good dystopia but this just never got started for me. Flat characters and a cold approach in terms of narration. I never felt connected to the characters or the world that Lee tried to create.
Dystopian fiction is at once prophecy and indictment. It has to be - these are what allow it to have any of the rest of its definitive characteristics.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is at once an indictment against and prophecy of a (medicinally) drugging culture.

1984 by George Orwell is at once an indictment against and prophecy of a surveillance state, and the end of privacy.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is at once an indictment against and prophecy of an anti-woman culture.


So many contradictions. Lee explores multiple themes in “On Such a Full Sea” including the nature of freedom, safety, the transcendence of loving and relatedness, social class and racial issues, and, most unusually, relentless endurance. He also creates a unique atmosphere that is at once violently sad yet peaceful. I was at once unsettled and lulled. I almost want to describe the setting as zenlike yet overlaid with elements from the old American West where violence and disaster co
Rafael Leon
"On Such a Full Sea" is not an easy read. That's the first thing that should be stated. The language is oftentimes hard too embellished, and some details too difficult for some readers (me included) to grasp. However, once you understand this is one of the aspects that makes this a beautiful work, it doesn't seem to matter anymore. It is not a page-turner, as one might argue to try to increase sells, and comprehensively so.
Second: this is not any distopyan novel, and this is not young adult by
Chris Blocker
On Such a Full Sea shows a beautiful display of language. Lee illustrates here he can masterfully turn a sentence and write scenes that are enthralling. The writing is top-notch, but it doesn't all come together as one might hope. Largely, I enjoyed the writing more than the novel itself.

The story of Fan and her quest had a sluggish start. Some of this was world building, as the narrator spent considerable time introducing the reader to this culture. The speed picks up eventually and the result
Washington Post
What a strange novel this is, with its erratic pacing, its haphazard mingling of adventure and philosophical reflection, its constant questioning of its own veracity. "On Such a Full Sea" is a haunting critique of a spiritually stunted community kept satisfied with basic comforts and the promise of protection from a threatening world. (Are you getting all this, NSA?)

Once again, Chang-rae Lee creates an impossibly foreign world, and with his muted, elegiac voice shows us living there. It’s a bri
Considering how much I loved The Surrendered by Lee and how much I normally like dystopian novels, I thought it would be a no brainer that I would love On Such a Full Sea. I started the book with the full expectation that it could possibly be one of the best books I'd read this year. Apparently my expectations were way too high: upon finishing, I thought it was just okay.

On Such a Full Sea is set in a dystopian future, in a work facility type village named B-Mor full of mostly New Chinese inhabi
You have to call this a dystopian story, but the world it describes is pretty recognizable. It is certainly not a chaotic world as is generally the case in a dystopian novel. If there aren't any walled workers communities in America today, it is not unthinkable that it could happen in a not so distant future. In this novel, immigrants from China have been resettled in abandoned American cities because air and soil in China had become so toxic that they had to leave their country behind. They are ...more
Feb 16, 2015 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Gayle King
Shelves: fiction

Is this a dystopia, or is it accurately describing present-day America? You can make either case. Certainly each type of community - the settlements, the Charters, the counties - exists now. Fan was an interesting protagonist. With her flatness and lack of affect, she reminded me of a sweeter version of Lisbeth Salander.

I'm surprised to see the book only has an overall 3.45 rating. (Yes, I know, I gave it 3 stars...but I tend to be a harder grader than most GR-ers.) Like Never Let Me Go, it's ob
Linda Robinson
A marvel. Lee uses an odd narrative voice: the collective we that is not identified: an ersatz Greek chorus that reflects on the changes in the community of B-Mor launched by the disappearance of Reg, and the short grainy video of our heroine Fan leaving the enclave that goes viral. With this first-person plural narrative choice, Lee is inviting us to pause, reflect and apply our own interpretation of how mythic Fan and Reg become. The tale is set in a possible United States. B-Mor is a family a ...more
On Such a Full Sea is an impeccably-written, somewhat unsettling novel. Some untold years in the future, the wealthy live in Charter villages that are maintained largely through the efforts of working citizens in labor settlements. Outside these settlements and villages are the counties, swaths of barely civilized land. A girl named Fan leaves one of these labor settlements and sets out for the counties and beyond, searching for her missing boyfriend.

But the story isn't really about Fan. It's to
This is my second recent audio book that I've experimented with, and while it was a better experience than the last one (The Buried Giant), I think I might be picking the wrong sorts of books to listen to. I might need something else that doesn't require as much attention. This is just a personal thing; I'm envious of people who can read great works of literature with their ears, but I'm not there yet. Maybe one day.

I will not lie that the real reason I wanted to do this one on audio is because
Jessica Woodbury
I didn't listen to this novel under optimal conditions. I listened to the audiobook (which is absolutely perfectly narrated by B. D. Wong in what may be one of my favorite reader/novel pairings ever) but I kept stopping to take breaks. (I started it right before Scribd's audiobook model changed, and I had to finish a bunch of other audiobooks I wouldn't have access to again.) So it took me a month or so to read this book and I often listened while I was in the airport and traveling and very tire ...more
Airiz C
In the wake of the commercial successes of ‘dystopian’ stories that have leapt from page to screen, the genre has been treated by many contemporary writers as their experimental sandboxes. However, modern dystopia requires a rather formulaic approach by design, so finding a title that effectively throws in a bit of thematic variety is very rare.

The typical formula goes like this: there’s a bleak setting, perhaps a wild landscape that is a by-product of (a) a big catastrophe, (b) an invasion of
Althea Ann
"Moment to moment we act freely, we make decisions and form opinions and there is very little to throttle us. We think each of us has a map marked with private routings and preferred habitual destinations, and go by a legend of our own. Yet it turns out you can overlay them and see a most amazing correspondence, what you believed were very personal contours aligning not exactly but enough that while our via points may diverge, our endings do not."

This month's post-apocalyptic book club selection

If Chang-rae Lee chooses to write a futuristic novel we can safely say that speculative fiction has moved out of the ghetto of genre into the uptown of mainstream fiction. That he has brought about a distillation of the gated-compound-versus-the-barbaric-wilds trope into a quest for the fine line between free will and fate only proves what we have known all along: that speculative fiction explores the various what-ifs of human existence and is built upon our oldest myths.

"It is known where we co
An odd starts off so very promisingly: a future broken-down and reconstructed world...and halfway through becomes increasingly domestic in its concerns: house, interior design (?), family, relations overtake and little of this new world intrudes in any meaningful way. When it does, it seems an afterthought. Still, it casts a reading spell.
I was reminded of Ishiguro but Lee is nowhere near as masterful in this novel.
1.5 stars.

We found the communal narrative obnoxious.
Mary P.
Dystopian fiction is not one of my favorite genres. Chang-Rae Lee describes America in the not-too-distant future as divided into three types of communities: The "facilities" are housed in the remains of abandoned cities like B-Mor (Baltimore), which has been repopulated by refugees from New China. These communities are entirely socialistic in structure. They are dedicated to farming fish in huge aquariums and to raising vegetables that are healthy enough for consumption by the residents of the ...more
May 08, 2014 Elaine rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
What a beautiful book. A fully-realized dystopian world - achingly close to our own, but still wonderfully imaginative. Lee doesn't stint on the bad stuff - he never does - but at bottom, Fan's story is still one of hope and tenderness persisting in a radically-hopeless world. I thought using the first-person plural voice ("we") for the B-more chapters might start to grate, but like How to Get Rich in Rising Asia's "you" (another story of tenderness and humanity in dystopia!), the experiment act ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘Have we not done the job of becoming our best selves?’

The title of this novel is drawn from a line in Shakespeare’s play, ‘Julius Caesar’. It’s a line from Act IV Scene II where Brutus speaks to convince Cassius that it is time to begin the battle against Octavius and Antony : ‘On such a full sea are we now afloat/ And we must take the current when it serves/Or lose our ventures.’ Sometimes (but not always) this line seems appropriate to the journey of Fan throughout this novel.

At some time in
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On Such a Full Sea: General Discussion 1 20 Feb 16, 2015 06:32PM  
Korean Authors: On Such a Full Sea: A Novel by Chang-rae Lee 5 60 Mar 30, 2014 08:24AM  
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Chang-Rae Lee (born July 29, 1965) is a first-generation Korean American novelist.

Lee was born in Korea in 1965. He emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old. He was raised in Westchester, New York but attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He received his BA in English from Yale University and MFA in Writing from the University of Oregon. He worked
More about Chang-rae Lee...

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“For sometimes you can't help but crave some ruin in what you love.” 1312 likes
“It is 'where we are' that should make all the difference, whether we believe we belong there or not.” 1247 likes
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