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Friday, February 14, 2014

On Such a Full Sea: A Novel

I have had the honor for the past few months to participate in Mashable's monthly book club, Mashreads. Our pick for last month was Chang-Rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea.

One day, in future America, our land is split into colonies and Open Counties, both differing in population and stratified by class. The colonies are populated by rural Chinese immigrants brought over generations ago, and each colony has its own job to care for others wealthier than they. B-Mor, in the former city of Baltimore, provides produce fish for the wealthier colonies. Fan is a fish diver, and when the love of her life mysteriously disappears after discovering he has a rare gene, she follows by leaving B-Mor. Her journey though the savage Open Counties becomes a cautionary tale, one that is told for generations to come.

Lee has a writing style that is as bucolic as a landscape painting in the Met. I found that his prose lulled me into a state of intensive focus and deep reading, and that I lost track of time when I was on Fan's journey. I found the story arc to be absolutely beautiful and moving, one that was driven by an emotion even deeper than love. It is my perfect Valentine's Day love story (happy holiday, by the way!), as it is about the care you feel when the person you love is out there and needs you--the drive is primal, so much more than when we say those three little words. The love in this story is a driving force, one that pushes Fan beyond anything either you or I believed she could do as a tiny little thing that can hold her breath for minutes on end.

Everything about this story was fascinating, from the dystopian setting in an America that no longer is but one day might be to the we-are-one narrator that was telling the story from a future all-knowing perspective. I loved the narrative structure of this story and the feeling that Fan could be all of us at any time. All it takes is that push to leave the comfort of our current lives and face the unknown for a greater purpose.

I had the pleasure of attending the MashableReads book club for this book. Chang-Rae joined us for one of the most enlightening discussions I could have possibly had on this novel. I am very funny about misquoting, so I won't do that here (it's the academic in me!). However, I want to talk about the overall meeting and the focus on what it all means at the end of the day.

Chang-Rae was one of the most insightful writers I have been able to meet and discuss their work. He talked about his inspiration to write this dystopian novel based in an area of Baltimore that needed to be filled, and he also spoke of the inspiration he took from a never-written novel on Chinese factory workers. He also spoke of the need for strong characters; without a characters that drive a story, we just have a really great landscape description. It's not about the where that is in interesting; rather, it's about what happens to people in those settings that makes a book interesting. His pragmatism was very refreshing, and his explanation of his choices was eye-opening. I am so grateful to have had the chance to hear him speak of his work, and I am excited to read what comes next.

The folks at Mashable are really the bees knees, y'all. They have been so kind and welcoming to me during these discussions, and I really want to encourage you to head to their Goodreads page, follow the hashtag #mashreads on Twitter or Instagram in order to join in their book discussions, follow @mashlifestyle, and if you are in the area and are interested in attending their latest book club, reach out via the Twitter hashtag! They are all such a fantastic bunch, and I am always honored and humbled to be in their presence.

Kindle version on right, hard copy on left.

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