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.
ABOUT 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.
- The novel is narrated by a collective voice of B-Mor residents, telling the story of Fan from a distance of some years. Why do you think the author chose to narrate the book this way? What does the collective narration add to the book? How might it read differently if it had been told as a much closer third-person narration? What if it had been told by Fan herself?
- How does the author implicitly explain this narrator’s ability to describe events that happened beyond the physical limits of B-Mor?
- Legend and storytelling are major themes in the story itself-from the legend of Fan as it is narrated by the collective B-Mor residents to (within that larger story) the story Quig tells Fan about his past, the tale that Fan has heard about the brother she never really knew, and the stories represented on the murals of the kept girls in the charter village. Do these stories have anything in common with one another, either in their telling or their effect on their audience? What about the stories’ effect on the tellers themselves? What do you think the author is saying about the nature of storytelling?
- Fan’s journey is a quest narrative, a storytelling form that traditionally tells about a hero’s transformation. Fan, though, doesn’t fundamentally change from the start of the novel to the end. Why do you think this is true? What has changed over the course of the novel?
- By the time the events of the novel begin, Reg has already disappeared. Why do you think the author has chosen not to introduce us to Reg as an active character during the novel?
- There is a period of growing discontent within B-Mor. What do you think accounts for this situation? How is it resolved? Do you think Fan would have left B-Mor if Reg had not disappeared? Do you think any of the discontent within B-Mor would have occurred if Fan had not gone after Reg?
- Think about race and how it is used in the book. In some ways this is a postracial America, but in other important ways, old prejudices linger. In addition, new divisions seem to have sprung up in place of racial discord. What are some of these divisions and how do they affect the characters and their lives? What do you think the author was trying to accomplish in this way?
- What do you think are the most significant quality-of-life differences between the settlements and the charter villages? Where are people the happiest, and why? What are the appeals of life in the Open Counties? Why haven’t more B-Mor residents like Fan ever left their settlement? Where do you think that you would be the happiest?