In a crowded London pub, two young people meet. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists—he a photographer, she a dancer—and both are trying to make their mark in a world that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence, and over the course of a year they find their relationship tested by forces beyond their control.
Narrated with deep intimacy, Open Water is at once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity that asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body; to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength; to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, and blistering emotional intelligence, Caleb Azumah Nelson gives a profoundly sensitive portrait of romantic love in all its feverish waves and comforting beauty.
"Only great artists can craft novels from water. Family, grief, Blackness, Frank Ocean, hip-hop, dancing, growing up, breaking up, London, oppression, beef patties, basketball, diasporic trauma -- for Caleb Azumah Nelson, it's all water. . . In this unforgettable debut, Open Water, all streams are connected . . . Azumah Nelson's poetic brilliance, his ability to balance the general and the specific, the ambient and the granular, makes for a salient achievement . . . It's Sally Rooney meets Michaela Coel meets Teju Cole...Whether he's describing a tense police encounter or lovers intertwined, when he's great, which is often, his descriptive powers are truly special." --Gabriel Bump, New York Times
"Centered around a romance between two young Black British artists, the novel's unnamed second-person narrator bleeds himself dry on the page, expressing his desire and suffering with desperate clarity. . . By externalizing a young Black artist's interiority, Azumah Nelson succeeds in transforming his 'you' into an 'I, ' compelling us to speak his name loud and clear." --Ploughshares
"Nelson's elegant, poetic debut novel, uniquely written in the second person, features two unnamed artistic Black characters living in London: a 20-something photographer and the dancer/student he is drawn to. As they fall in love, their relationship is tested by communication struggles, issues of race and Black masculinity." --CNN.com
"[A] once-in-a-blue-moon kind of read, a truly remarkable debut from a gifted young wordsmith . . . The novel is at once a celebration of Black love and Black art and expression; its words vibrate and resonate at a steady, rhythmic cadence throughout the text. . . . thoroughly unforgettable." --Buzzfeed
"Lyrical . . . this emotionally rich debut tells a budding love story against backdrops of Black culture, joy, and pain. . . Open Water lives in the here and now." --Entertainment Weekly
"An intimate, emotionally involving work." --Library Journal, "Best Debut Novels of Spring and Summer 2021"