Book Review: ON SUCH A FULL SEA by Chang Rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
Reviewed by Consuelo

If this is the kind of fiction 2014 is starting with, it’s going to be a good year. On Such a Full Sea tells the story of Fan, a sixteen year old diver from B-Mor, a labor colony in a future dystopian America. She is a small, quiet girl who one day leaves the gates of her safe and measured life to try and find her boyfriend who has mysteriously gone missing. Her journeys take her from the unregulated villages of the wilderness to privileged Charter cities.

From the first page, I was completely immersed in Chang-Rae Lee’s language. The point of view is from an omniscient third-person “we,” telling the legend of Fan in retrospective, and the lessons B-Mor has learned from her struggles. It is such a fascinating perspective, directly addressing “you”, the reader, and asking you to participate in the story. I would call it drone fiction, and I mean that it in the best way possible. It lulls you in, so that when you close the pages, you have to blink your eyes and shake your head to come back into the real world.

Lee’s world building is so strong. He seamlessly paints a picture of a society so divided and yet intrinsically reliant upon each other. Fan bridges this gap and her character is strong and dynamic. Her motivations seem clear, and yet somehow she retains a mystery that compels you to keep reading to find out what happens to her.

I was so absorbed by the words themselves, it wasn’t until I finished the book that I started thinking about the bigger picture and the themes that Lee addresses. He doesn’t shy away from the dark nature of human beings and the decisions we make, both big and small, that hurt each other. And yet he doesn’t exclude hope and love. This is my first experience with Chang-Rae Lee’s work, but if his stories are always this balanced and finely nuanced, I can’t wait to read them all.

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Copies of On Such a Full Sea are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

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