Open Water

Open Water

By Caleb Azumah Nelson
160 pages
April 2021


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.

This is one of the most essential debut novels of recent years, heralding the arrival of a stellar and prodigious young talent.

“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


“An intense, elegant debut.”Guardian UK