Min Hyoung Song reviews On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee in the LARB
The prose is certainly pretty, but differently so than in Native Speaker. While the latter was exuberant in its use of language, reveling in the author’s powers of invention, here the language works to produce a narrower effect. The more Hata speaks, the more the holes in his self-presentation appear, and the more readers see a darker side to his ever-present congeniality. To start anything by asserting, “People know me here,” is already to challenge readers to wonder whether it is true. It is a way of calling attention to the effort that goes into wanting to assert something difficult to prove — how many of us can say with any certainty what others think of us? — as if it were commonly accepted. As the novel progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that Hata is largely unknown, an aloof shadow of a person whom others mostly tolerate.