On Such a Full Sea: A Novel

Overview

“Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the pleasures of devoted reading, and On Such a Full Sea provides all that and more. . . . With On Such a Full Sea, [Chang-rae Lee] has found a new way to explore his old preoccupation: the oft-told tale of the desperate, betraying, lonely human heart.”—Andrew Sean Greer, The New York Times Book Review

“I've never been a fan of grand hyperbolic declarations in book reviews, but faced with On Such a Full Sea, I have no choice but ...

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On Such a Full Sea

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Overview

“Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the pleasures of devoted reading, and On Such a Full Sea provides all that and more. . . . With On Such a Full Sea, [Chang-rae Lee] has found a new way to explore his old preoccupation: the oft-told tale of the desperate, betraying, lonely human heart.”—Andrew Sean Greer, The New York Times Book Review

“I've never been a fan of grand hyperbolic declarations in book reviews, but faced with On Such a Full Sea, I have no choice but to ask: Who is a greater novelist than Chang-rae Lee today?”—Porochista Khakpour, The Los Angeles Times

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
From his PEN/Hemingway Award winner, Native Speaker, to his Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Surrendered, Lee has written resoundingly of the immigrant experience and of 20th-century history. Now he envisions a futuristic dystopian America with rigid class divisions and walled-in labor communities whose inhabitants are descended from Chinese brought over from their environmentally devastated homeland. Among them is fish-tank diver Fan (the laborers deliver fresh food to the small, elite encampments), who sets out for the great beyond when the man she loves suddenly vanishes.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-11-04
A harrowing and fully imagined vision of dystopian America from Lee, who heretofore has worked in a more realist mode. Lee's oeuvre is largely made up of novels about Asians assimilating into American society (The Surrendered, 2010, etc.), and in many regards, this one is no different. Its hero is Fan, a young woman of Chinese descent who leaves her native Baltimore to find her disappeared lover, Reg. However, the near-future America she travels through is catastrophically going off the rails: The wealthy (or "Charters") live in protected communities, the lawless "counties" are highly dangerous, while those like Fan in the struggling middle live and work in highly regimented communities designed to serve the Charters' needs. (Fan worked in a fishery in Baltimore, renamed B-Mor.) Typical of dystopian literary novels, the circumstances that brought the country to this ugly pass aren't clear (though social concerns about the environment and carcinogens are high). What Lee adds to the genre is his graceful, observant writing, as well as a remarkably well-thought-out sense of how crisis stratifies society and collapses morality. As Fan travels north from B-Mor, she encounters or hears about people who are actively brokering or sacrificing human life to survive. Lee's imagination here is at once gruesome and persuasive: A family of circus-type performers who kill people and feed them to their dogs, a cloistered Charter housewife with a group of adopted children who are never allowed to leave their rooms, a doctor who accepts poor patients only to the extent they're willing to prostitute themselves to him. The potency and strangeness of these characters never diminish the sense that Lee has written an allegory of our current predicaments, and the narration, written in the collective voice of B-Mor, gives the novel the tone of a timeless and cautionary fable. Welcome and surprising proof that there's plenty of life in end-of-the-world storytelling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594632891
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 12/2/2014
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,465,094

Meet the Author

Chang-rae  Lee

Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction; A Gesture Life; Aloft; and The Surrendered, winner of the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Selected by The New Yorker as one of the “20 Writers for the 21st Century,” Chang-rae Lee is Professor professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and the a Shinhan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yonsei University.

Biography

Chang-rae Lee landed on the literary scene with Native Speaker, a detective story about much more than just another crime. Detective Henry Park grows too attached to those he investigates as he discovers the connection between broad social questions and his personal failings. Critics responded, and Lee's debut received a string of recognition, including a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Biography/Critical Appreciation Everyone agrees that Chang-rae Lee is a writer to watch. His debut novel, Native Speaker, (1995) won the American Book Award and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Plus, two literary cornerstones, The New Yorker and Granta, named him one of the twenty best American writers under forty.

Lee and his family emigrated from Seoul, South Korea to the United States in 1968. His family settled in Westchester, New York, and Lee eventually attended Yale and the University of Oregon, where he earned his M.F.A.

Native Speaker is a story about a Korean-American detective, Henry Park, whose investigative eye is eventually turned upon himself. The novel takes a challenging look at Park's effort reconcile his two cultures in an even larger culturally diverse setting, New York City. The language is simple, yet the reader is allowed a deep and intriguing look inside the head of the main character, the politics that affect him, and his struggles with love and cultures. The New York Times called Lee's debut "highly original," and the Literary Review raved, "... Native Speaker seems like a new kind of novel, the plainsong of unassimilated man, and in the murmur of his nascent voice is the soft clash of borders."

In 1999, Lee's second novel, A Gesture Life continued the themes of identity and assimilation. Lee wrote the novel over the course of four years, although it was originally about the experience of a Korean "comfort woman," forced to sexually service invading Japanese soldiers. Lee traveled to Korea and interviewed surviving comfort women, but two years into the novel, one of the characters, previously considered a minor one, captured Lee's imagination and wouldn't let go. Remarkably, Lee abandoned everything he had written except for one character -- Doc Hata.

Franklin "Doc" Hata is a reserved, older physician, Korean by birth, raised in Japan, and now living in New York City. Only after much needling by his daughter, Doc Hata begins to reveal his painful secrets: his time as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II, his love for one of the Korean comfort women, and the guilt that has kept him silent for most of his life. It's an unforgettable story, and The New York Times called the book "... a work of astonishing psychological acuity and compassion."

With the 2004 release of Lee's Aloft, once again, readers are treated to a portrait of a man in the throes of a reconciliation. Readers who expect Lee's novels to deal exclusively with Asian Americans will be pleasantly surprised to see the author flex his writing skills with the creation of Jerry Battle, the semi-retired head of a (mostly) white Long Island family. On the ground, Battle is inundated with family bickering, his upcoming 60th birthday, and the mystery surrounding his wife's death. Aloft in his small private plane, Battle escapes all of this, although only temporarily. His is the story of how to cope with responsibility -- to the past, and to the unknown.

Lee a writer and a teacher, as well as the director of the M.F.A. Program at Hunter College of City University in New York City. Those fortunate enough to be his students get to learn from the man who knows the stuff of human nature -- that the aftereffect of any act is the core of every great story, and that even the most conventional characters can bear the weight of unconventional story lines.

Good To Know

"If I weren't a writer," Lee reveals in our interview, "I'd probably be working in the food and/or wine business, perhaps running a wine or coffee bar -- or even an Asian noodle soup shop."
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    1. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 29, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      Seoul, Korea
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Yale University, 1987; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, University of Oregon, 1993

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