On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee [in Library Journal]
Once revealed in context, this book’s title alone is an astonishing feat of encapsulated genius from the inimitable Chang-rae Lee. Control, individuality, nature, perfection, reality, society – all that and more fill this dystopic treatise about a not-so-futuristic, ruined America.
At the beginning, 16-year-old Fan simply walks out of her contained labor colony in search of her vanished lover; her epic quest takes her through the renegade “counties” and into a privileged “Charter” community and beyond. “New Chinese” descendants trade gated protection by providing halcyon Charter cities with their necessities; beyond the walls is a lawless free-for-all. Lee’s use of a never-named “we” as narrator proves to be a brilliant maneuver that allows him to be both observant bystander and discretionary judge and, at times, even admittedly unreliable.
Verdict: Versatility surely earned Lee a place on The New Yorker‘s “20 Writers for the 21st Century”-dais [June 21 & 28, 1999]; his literary voice has morphed constantly, debuting as a Korean American outsider (Native Speaker) and moving through a Japanese American doctor (A Gesture Life), an Italian American widower (Aloft), and Korean War survivors (The Surrendered). That versatility ensures Sea equal appreciation among readers who enjoy a heart-thumping adventure and doctoral students in search of a superlative dissertation text.