In his futuristic novel, On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee fears for our ability to conceive of a better tomorrow: Guernica
In On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee’s protagonist, Fan, takes an expedition out of a future, oppressive Baltimore—now called “B-Mor”—which has a set-up that will be familiar to readers of dystopian fiction. The residents of B-Mor are the long-off descendants of the people of “New China,” who came to America after turning their home country into an environmental wasteland. Their world is defined by a strict power structure: Like so many employees, the residents of B-Mor have regular tasks and days off, but their lives are circumscribed by their inability to move up and leave. Fan, for instance, is recruited to tend to the fish that serve as the primary foodstuff for everyone from the elite Charters to the less-privileged residents of B-Mor.
Geoff Mak on On Such a Full Sea in LARB
These are the times in which Chang-rae Lee’s fifth novel, On Such a Full Sea, arrives. Contrary to the historical and contemporary subjects of Lee’s previous novels, Full Sea tells the story of a futuristic, dystopian America after China has colonized the United States, making it his biggest departure to date. In this novel, Lee, whose fiction first appeared during the rise of ethnic studies in the 1990s, retains his usual political point of view; that is to say, it’s a primarily social one. There aren’t any cyborgs, and the presence of the internet figures minimally and passively. Lee’s imagination is much more concerned with questions about class and identity, which have a near deterministic power over the individuals in the cosmos of Full Sea.
Dystopia is by its nature a dreary, inhospitable country. To its early explorers it held all the excitement of discovery, and that made their descriptions fresh and powerful – EM Forster’s “The Machine Stops”, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But for the last 30 years or more, Dystopia has been a major tourist attraction. Everybody goes there and writes a book about it. And the books tend to be alike, because the terrain is limited and its nature is monotonous.
Readers often expect particular traits from prolific authors. This holds true for Chang-rae Lee, whose charm has been […]
Min Hyoung Song reviews On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee in the LARB The prose is certainly pretty, […]
John Freeman reviews ‘On Such a Full Sea’ by Chang-Rae Lee in The Boston Globe Why do novelists love […]