My first exposure to Chang-rae Lee was an essay, “Mute in an English-Only World,” found in my Composition reader at my PhD institution. I taught it my first year teaching and realized that it had been taught for the last ten years. I received a suspiciously large amount of papers on the essay, which made me realize there were way too many papers floating around about the essay. So I had to ban it. The essay was not my favorite, either. It was somewhat hard to understand, and students would misunderstand it all.the.time. So I’ve had major baggage related to Chang-rae Lee. I heard his latest novel was dystopian, which captured my interest, and I decided it was time to start afresh with him.
On Such a Full Sea covers the United States which has been split up into settlements and then resettled by immigrants and several subsequent generations. B-More, formerly Baltimore, is one such settlement made up of people who originated from New China. The protagonist is Fan, a young petite woman who abruptly decides to leave the security of her job and the relative safety of B-Mor when her boyfriend Reg goes missing without a trace. Her journey takes her to far-flung areas and leads her to rely on her skills and mental fortitude to survive the dangerous world ahead.
The writing is very artistic in focus, but I am not sure that it did a great service to the story. The narrative is a rather vague third-person plural (as in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides) and it often sidetracks to memories and sidenotes that detract from Fan’s major story. I sometimes lost my patience, because the main story is very interesting. I find myself very mixed on the novel overall. Was it worthwhile? I think so, though I don’t feel the need to re-read this book at the moment.