I was quite impressed when I started reading On Such A Full Sea. I was presented with a world that had been completely messed up and more importantly, with a humankind that did not get the message: take care of the earth. In the future the inhabitants of B’More, the descendants of Chinese colonists, produce fish and vegetables using all kinds of gen techniques to deliver the best produce. When decent worker Reg disappears society gets tickled. When his girl friend Fan sets out to search for him in the dangerous world outside B’More, the entire settlement gets into a frenzy: something is about to happen. Lee introduces a storyteller, ‘we’, who introduces us to the world of settlements, Charters for the elite and the wild country for the have nots. In this world Fan has to find Reg. At first I was intrigued, after some 100 pages however, I found that I started to get bored with B’More and Fan. I started thinking ‘not another mishap, not another cruel person who wants to use her for his personal gain’. It just kept going on, Fan sometimes reacting as a true heroine should, sometimes just letting things go. It made me wonder why B’More chose to see her as their heroine of a revolution to come. At the end Fan gets saved from yet one more selfish person, B’More has gone through a financial dip and has started to recover again. No more need for a revolution, B’More just goes on as if nothing has happened and happily works on, further polluting the world.
On Such a Full Sea should be read on two levels: it is a warning about humankind destroying our world, warning us to take better care of the earth. It is also a literary novel that uses allegory and the almighty ‘we’ to tell the story. I find that the warning is effective: I felt quite annoyed at those inhabitants of a new world who just kept on living as if they had not just ruined their home land. The fact that nothing changes strengthens this message. Even the fact that Fan just keeps on plotting on in her search for Reg underlines the message. It does not make for good reading though. ‘We’ is too bombastic, too slow in his telling, one might almost say that he keeps droning along. It made me want to go to sleep. The characters are too shallow, merely serving a purpose. I get the message Chang-Rae Lee is sending me, it’s just a pity that Lee did not fulfill the literary demands. In that case On Such a Full Sea would have been a delight to read.