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January 14, 2014 / Leslie

Audiobook Review: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea Chang-rae LeeOn Such a Full Sea
by Chang-rae Lee
Narrated by B. D. Wong

Genre: Dystopian
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publish Date: January 7, 2014
Format: Audio, 11 hours | 8 minutes
Audio Listening Level: Easy – Intermediate
Rating: 3 of 5

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as high-walled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class – descendants of those brought over enmasse 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.

My Thoughts:

Chang-rae Lee has beautifully portrayed a disturbing, dystopian world: An America several hundred years in the future that is plagued by the evolution of many of today’s problems. Pollution, climate change, economic decline, few available jobs, rationed health care, class and racial division, and financial inequality have created a divided society. The Open Counties are where the outcasts of society reside, the laborers live in The Settlements – the remnants of former major cities, and the wealthy elites live in The Charters.

This is the story of Fan, a young woman from the settlement of B-Mor, the former city of Baltimore. Fan’s boyfriend, Reg, disappears one day and she sets out on a quest into the open counties to find him. Her story is presented as a folktale told by an unnamed narrator, presumably from B-Mor. Fan is revered by her people. He refers to her fondly as ‘our Fan’ and often uses the term ‘we’.

The prose is beautifully descriptive and the first half of the book was compelling. As Fan traveled we learned more about the world she inhabited and the people who lived in it but after a while the plot didn’t feel like it was progressing. It began to feel more about the place and not the story or the characters.

I never quite understood Fan. She seemed easily distracted from her goal of finding Reg. She set out on a dangerous journey but was not a strong character. She let others direct her and make decisions for her. There were times when she should have run from a clearly uneasy situation but instead remained. Her staying provided more opportunity for social commentary, descriptive prose and world building but slowed down the pace of the story.

When we finally got to the ending, there was little explanation. Perhaps there is a sequel planned because lot of questions were left unanswered. While I enjoyed the detailed world building, I needed a little more substance to the plot. Those who revel in exquisite prose and detailed observations of the time and the place will enjoy this novel.

Audio Production:
The narrator, B. D. Wong, read the story as if he were relating a fable or fairy tale. This was a fairly easy novel to listen to with a linear story line, no quick jumps in time and place, and one main character. There are a lot of secondary characters, world building and storytelling, so a little extra attention to detail is needed, but overall a solid audio production.

Source: Review copy
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Leave a Comment
  1. Suko / Jan 14 2014 1:30 pm

    Leslie, it sounds as if this worked for you in some ways. The exquisite writing would draw me in, although I might want a bit more resolution. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about this audiobook.


  2. BermudaOnion / Jan 14 2014 2:25 pm

    This book is getting huge buzz so I’ve been wondering about it. It sounds like the ending was a letdown.


  3. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Jan 14 2014 8:26 pm

    I was thinking about listening to this one, but I don’t think it’s for me.


    • Leslie / Jan 16 2014 1:23 pm

      It’s not what I normally see you read, however I would say it’s more literary than science fiction.


  4. Laura Fabiani / Jan 15 2014 12:15 pm

    The story doesn’t sound compelling enough to me, but thanks for the great review.


  5. Leeswammes / Jan 15 2014 2:40 pm

    Hmm, what to think of that? The premise sounds good, but I like a bit more plot, too. What a pity!


    • Leslie / Jan 16 2014 1:22 pm

      You might like this one. The writing was excellent and the world building was what kept me reading. Fan just didn’t do it for me, she was not a very exciting character.


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