On Such A Full Sea

On Such A Full Sea

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"From the beloved award-winning author of Native Speaker and The Surrendered, a highly provocative, deeply affecting story of one woman's legendary quest in a shocking, future America. 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"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2014
ISBN: 9781594486104
Characteristics: 352 pages ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

Also available as an eBook

Also available as an eBook. Also available on eAudio.

Also available on eAudio and as an eBook. Fiction for adults.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Aug 20, 2019

This is a different novel for the acclaimed Chang-Rae Lee because it is set in a future an undetermined time from now. It begins in B-Mor, Baltimore remade for natives from ruined cities in the Shanxi Province in China to live. The geography of Baltimore is that of my home town, still there with stoops and row homes. This gave me a special feeling for the novel connected to special feelings for the city that the author captures well (Take that Mr. Trump and be accursed for daring to spit on my parents' graves.). The other parts of the world explored in the novel are the upscale Charters, and the Counties in between the Charters and B-mor. In the counties, the unexpected and dangerous always seems to eventually happen. Lee creates detailed social and economic systems for this dystopic world. Its origin is not explained, but the class and social structures are all recognizable as part of the world we live in now. The central chapter, Fan, holds it all together with her quiet courage and determination in facing strange worlds. The narrator is talking about her when he says "we have to remind ourselves that it's perhaps more laudable simply to keep heading out into the world than always tilting to leave one's mark on it." This phrase also capture the at times mildly philosophic tone of the novel. After the nightmares of the Counties, the Charters' posh world feels phony and over-commercialized, emphasized by the couple trying to build a miniature B-mor in their upscale neighborhood. Some of the characters are at times strange, but all are very convincing. They will remind you of people you know. One of the most interesting is the narrator, given no name but obviously an older Chinese neighborhood man living in Baltimore. You'll remember Fan, B-mor, and the other characters after roaming their world with Fan.

Sep 15, 2018

Fascinating twist on the dystopian future: written in a unique manner (often first person plural!) and where the dystopia is not established by some shadowy dictatorship, but by the people themselves. Fan's adventures are interesting as she navigates this world, and horrifying when (spoiler alert!) she discovers that it's apparently legal to keep people hidden away in a separate wing of a house – as pets. A disturbing read, but well-written and suitable for discussions and book clubs.

LPL_KateG Sep 09, 2016

What a fascinating book! Great for book clubs - the inventive narrative technique (first person plural!) and interesting/odd characters provide lots of discussion topics.

Sep 03, 2016

I loved this so much. Apocalypse novels aren't usually my thing, but this heroine, her adventures, her strength, and the writing that lays it all out so beautifully...best novel I've read this summer. Disappointed that I didn't hear about this book earlier.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 04, 2016

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.

multcolib_rossb Jul 26, 2015

Beautifully written and super evocative of one possible near future. Is it a dystopia? I'm not so sure. It's really not that different from the world we have right now, only that the lines between groups are drawn a little more thickly. It's a poetic and dreamy book - if you need a strong plot working to a strong conclusion, this might not be for you.

May 05, 2015

I like this genre but this was all over the map. It was definitely a different spin on the post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction I've read before but I never found this worked. There were some good ideas but also some really long, drawn-out passages which really dragged and it seemed like nothing happened.

Mar 14, 2015

could barely get through this, took a few months. the narrator was difficult to connect with. ending was kind of "meh." and I am an avid reader of dystopian fiction. I wouldn't include this one on my dystopia shelf...

Jan 26, 2015

A solid entry in the "use a dystopian future to shine a light on current issues" tradition. I haven't read Mr. Lee's other works, which was probably to my advantage as it seems this was his first foray into speculative fiction and I didn't bring any preconceived expectations. Worth a read, I'd say.

Dec 17, 2014

This was an ok book. I finished it, but felt that there wasn't much to the story of Fan. It was more of reflection of a people on their society. Not as action oriented and suspenseful and post-apocalyptic as I thought it would be...

View All Comments


Add a Summary
AnneDromeda Mar 03, 2014

If you’re a reader of dystopian literary fiction (think Margaret Atwood’s most recent book, *MaddAddam*), then I have something to keep you happily occupied while spring gets its act together. Acclaimed author Chang-Rae Lee (Pulitzer Prize finalist for *The Surrendered*) is back with a beautifully rendered, deeply creepy work of speculative fiction. *On Such a Full Sea* follows the travails of a young woman named Fan, raised since birth in an incredibly strict factory town. B-Mor was founded by Chinese immigrants fleeing their homeland’s environmental destruction. B-Mor was established on Baltimore’s remnants, following an invasion that drove out the city’s 21st century inhabitants (subsequently called “the natives”). This appears to have taken place after the United States suffered a social and environmental crisis of its own. On an otherwise nondescript day, Fan’s boyfriend Reg disappears without a trace. Rumours speculate he’s been kidnapped by a pharmacorp after his genes were found to be completely resistant to cancer, now rampant in the world’s population. As with disappearances in other totalitarian societies, Reg’s merits little official comment, and his family and friends must suffer his loss without much acknowledgement. Fan, however, breaks free of B-Mor into the wild surrounding Counties, where no fixed government reigns and there’s no protection from toxins. The narrator tracks Fan’s compulsive, haphazard movements through the Counties searching for Reg. In fact, the narrator is one of this novel’s greatest curiosities. He or she is plainly a resident of B-Mor who is decreasingly interested in appearing to have consumed the proverbial kool-aid. So, then, how does the narrator know what’s happening to Fan? Why trust the narrator? It’s never resolved, and this adds to the weird, panopticon-like tension experienced by the reader. Part action novel, part social study, *On Such a Full Sea* is a richly realized cautionary tale offering no easy answers. It is very highly recommended to any readers of literary fiction who don’t mind an occasional tour into murky dystopia.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at HCL

To Top