cover image On Such a Full Sea

On Such a Full Sea

Chang-Rae Lee. Riverhead, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-59448-610-4

Lee's (The Surrendered) latest novel is set in a dystopic future world in which the cities of Detroit and Baltimore are now facilities, called B-Mor and D-Troy by their residents, all of whom are of Asian descent. These city dwellers spend their lives in happy serfdom, working day jobs to produce goods (mostly food) for the richer Charter communities. But when Fan, an unassuming 16-year-old with a talent for diving, abandons B-Mor in search of her vanished boyfriend, Reg, the fabric of orderly B-Mor begins to fray. Lee tells the story of Fan's quest, from the facilities to the open counties (lawless places where Fan's unwavering purpose and childlike demeanor are the only things that protect her), and, finally, to a Charter called Seneca. The narrator is the collective voice of B-Mor, who often interrupts Fan's journey with digressions on the nature of legends and the impossibility of any story surviving, unaltered, the whims of the teller. It's an engrossing read, and Lee's skills as a world builder of the finest order are evident in every chapter. Late in the second half of the book, Fan is temporarily imprisoned with a group of kept girls. All of their eyes are altered to resemble those of anime characters, and they're trapped in a white dormitory, where they magic-marker their histories onto the wall. Lee's descriptions of their images%E2%80%94which start as truth and then careen into a fantastic blend of imagination and interpretation%E2%80%94are beautiful metaphors for the way stories take on lives of their own. (Jan.)