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January 7, 2014

Book Notes - Chang-rae Lee "On Such a Full Sea"

On Such a Full Sea

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Chang-rae Lee's new novel On Such a Full Sea brilliantly uses its dystopian setting to explore themes of identity and class.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"Lee has always been preoccupied by the themes of hope and betrayal, by the tensions that arise in small lives in the midst of great social change. His marvelous new book, which imagines a future after the breakdown of our own society, takes on those concerns with his customary mastery of quiet detail — and a touch of the fantastic."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Chang-rae Lee's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, On Such a Full Sea:

"Starships," Nicki Minaj
This is a song that is certainly more associative than thematic, as it seemed my daughters were playing it constantly while I was writing the novel. At first I alternated between dreading it and finding it tolerable, until one day it strangely clicked. It seemed the perfect futuristic dance track for youths searching for release, a way to escape.

"Only The Young," Journey
This is in keeping with one of the interests of the book, which is the belief and dream of freedom. Like all Journey songs it's quite naive and sentimental, a balladic anthem that makes you want to sway with your honey and croon about undying love.

"Only You," YAZ
I've always loved the sound of YAZ and still do, that unlikely mix of melodic, soulful lyrics punctuated by 80s synth. It's both chilly and romantic, which for me adds up to something pretty sexy.

"Not Afraid," Eminem
A call of defiance from the crumbling streets of a dying American city, a milieu the novel reimagines and resurrects for the heroine and her community as they try to make sense of a re-ordered world.

"Come As You Are," Nirvana
A significant part of the novel takes place in the 'open counties', the lawless, wild, and hardscrabble areas where people must rely on themselves for safety and sustenance, and the hard, driving, nihilistic groove of Nirvana seems just the right sound for that kind of harsh, netless living.

"Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor
Among other things, the novel tracks the love of our heroine, Fan, for her disappeared boyfriend, the simple and earnest Reg. Like any true love it's probably more special to them than meets any observer's eye, the bond being ultimately inexplainable.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2
There's a quest motoring the narrative of the book, both for a particular person but also one that's broader, this yearning for another way of being and life, which, as the song suggests, will be never-ending.


Chang-rae Lee and On Such a Full Sea links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

The A.V. Club review
Boston Globe review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Entertainment Weekly review
Independent review
Los Angeles Times review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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