Many of our book club readers were introduced to the dystopian novel with When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. The latest in this thought-provoking genre is Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. Lee’s unique narrative tells the story in the first-person plural. This narration from the collective state is what makes this imaginative work of fiction a literary novel. Early on the narrators pose the theme when they say, “More and more we can see that the question is not whether we are ‘individuals,’ the question, then is whether being an ‘individual’ makes a difference anymore.”
On Such a Full Sea gives us an America that has been destroyed and repopulated by people from New China. This world has a highly stratified class system, health care issues, and an authoritarian power controlling the economy and every aspect of people’s lives. Sound familiar? The social commentary about our contemporary society in America had us nodding in recognition and fear as we read the book.
The story has our narrators, the workers of B-Mor (formerly Baltimore) tell us the story of a young girl Fan who leaves the numbing comfort of her worker life to find her missing boyfriend Reg. We will not tell you anymore as the driving force of this book is letting the “we” voice tell us a myth like tale of Fan. Ultimately by the end of the story we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what makes us an individual and do we have the power to stand against the status quo and make a difference.
About the Author
Chang-rae Lee is the author of On Such a Full Sea. He is also the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction, A Gesture Life, Aloft, and The Surrendered. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.
Beyond the Book