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On Such a Full Sea

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  4,584 ratings  ·  837 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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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
Sheri
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
...more
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
...more
Elise
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
Yulia
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
Sara
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.

TRUST NO ONE.

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
...more
Michael
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
...more
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.
Philip
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.

Fahrenhe
...more
Cynthia
Contradiction

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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
Kelly
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
...more
Lobstergirl
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
...more
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
Lura
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
...more
Judy


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
...more
Jessica
An odd novel...it 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.
Hanneke
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
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
Elaine
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
...more
Edan
I think this was a 4.5 star book for me but I am rounding up because at times the language was so genius, the syntax so new and startling, that I felt I was reading something truly brilliant.

This book reminded me a bit of George Saunders' work; something about the plural first person had a naive quality, a we're-maybe-only-fooling-ourselves-but-we-need-to-in-order-to-carry-on that reminded me of his stories and voice.

I loved the point of view...god, it's so problematic in the best way! I loved
...more
eb
This literary dystopian picaresque starts promisingly: Fan, a brave young woman, leaves her fish-farming community in search of her boyfriend, who has mysteriously disappeared. But it never really comes together. Like many literary novelists doing genre, Lee doesn't world-build. That normally doesn't bother me, but here it produces a feeling of vagueness. There are mentions of "the directorate," a sinister group that rules B-Mor, but we never learn who they are and what they do. Similarly, we ne ...more
jeremy
chang-rae lee's fifth novel, on such a full sea, is a bit of a thematic departure from his acclaimed earlier works (most notably native speaker). set in a futuristic, somewhat dystopic, post-abundance america, on such a full sea is the tale of fan, a talented young woman compelled to track the whereabouts of reg - her best friend and lover - after he disappears inexplicably from the labor settlement where they both live and work. fan's quest takes her beyond the safety and familiarity of her com ...more
Robin Kirk
I was really looking forward to this -- a wonderful writer taking on a dystopia, a framework I like, well-reviewed, substantial. But Disappointment! The voice is this distant all-knowing entity, a resident of one of the locations, B-Mor, but without any reason to know so much about the protagonist's life and thoughts. The protagonist, Fan, is a cipher throughout. She leaves the relative safety of B-Mor, where she is happy, for no apparent reason other than to find her boyfriend. However, she has ...more
Jake
While I was eavesdropping on two girls talking in the student center at Northwestern, one posited rather intelligently that dystopias were depressing but showed the persistence of humanity. That’s what makes dystopian fiction so compelling: it shows us a future gone very wrong, but it also shows us how the human spirit can go very, very right. The thing about On Such A Full Sea, the new novel from Chang-Rae Lee that has been getting attention from the New York Times and The New Yorker on down, i ...more
Luke Robinson
I couldn't finish this book. Maybe it had some great ideas hidden within it, maybe as it further fleshed out its vision of a futuristic America some satire would have shone through, maybe the main characters quest out from B-Mor and into the counties could have become exciting but i'll never know because Lee decided to write the book in this baffling collective third-person perspective that muddles up chronology and emotion n such a way that my eyes would glaze over halfway through each page and ...more
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
...more
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On Such a Full Sea: General Discussion 1 8 Feb 16, 2015 06:32PM  
Korean Authors: On Such a Full Sea: A Novel by Chang-rae Lee 5 55 Mar 30, 2014 08:24AM  
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21050
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
More about Chang-rae Lee...
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“For sometimes you can't help but crave some ruin in what you love.” 1305 likes
“For if there is ever a moment when we are most vulnerable, it’s when we’re closest to the idea of the attained desire, and thus farthest from ourselves, which is when we’ll tread through any flame.” 28 likes
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