Title: Open Water
Writer: Caleb Azumah Nelson
Publishing House: Grove Press
Date of Publication: April 13th 2021 (first published February 4th 2021)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’You came here to speak of shame and its relation to desire. There should be no shame in openly saying, I want this. There should be no shame in not knowing what one wants.’’
Love. What a simple, yet puzzling, complicated, frightening word. What beauty and terror are hidden in four letters. Love brings countless complications. One of the most intense comes when two best friends realise they have actually fallen in love with each other. He is a young man, a photographer. She is a free spirit, interested in writing and dance is her means to express herself. They meet, they collaborate, they become best friends. But it is clear that they fell in love at first sight. What happens when you find a soulmate but risk losing your true friend? As months go by, wandering in the buzzing metropolis of London, we watch two people who try to understand each other and themselves. And their story becomes our own.
‘’Language fails us, and sometimes our parents do, too. We all fail each other, sometimes small, sometimes big, but look, when we love we trust, and when we fail, we fracture that joint.’’
What is in store for our couple? Both are Black British, both are artists. Both are navigating an absurd world that most of the times sees you as a ‘’Black’’ body. The story is written in second-person narration which is my favourite literary technique when done properly. And here it is presented to absolute perfection. Exclusively seen through the eyes of the young man, we are guided into a story that examines love and relationships within a troubled and troubling society. A society that still succumbs to racism and discrimination and violence comes all too easily. This is far from a ‘’civilised’’ time…
Art is an escape, a means to express your feelings and understand yourself. Before you let Anger take over you. Anger because the world is mad, mad to its rotten core. Before you are smothered by the overwhelming feeling that you are not ‘’good enough’’, the constant need to apologise. Before you surrender to your fear of expressing your thoughts to the one you love. But if you retreat deeper and deeper into your shell, you’ll get lost. And if you bedn too much, you will break. Your homeland, the land of your ancestors, the land of your beloved grandma is always on your mind. You need freedom, you need for fear to disappear, but the line between being cautious and being selfish is too thin.
In London and in Dublin. In our own home, in our own heart. That’s where this outstanding novel takes us. Loving someone so much that it becomes frightening. Baring your soul is terrifying. Love is swimming in open water, against the current. Written with quiet beauty, tenderness and pain, this is the story of the love between two people, the story of a community where hatred and violence drive everyone apart. The story that shows that nothing has really changed. The story in which, one way or another, we can spot ourselves.
A remarkable debut. One of the finest books of the year.
‘’It is the wrong season to have a crush. Meeting someone on a summer’s evening is like giving a dead flame new life. You are more likely to wander outside with this person for a reprieve from whatever sweatbox you are being housed in. You might find yourself accepting the offer of a cigarette, your eyes narrowing as the nicotine trickles your brain and you exhale into the stiff heat of a London night. You might look towards the end and realise he blue doesn’t quite deepen during these months. In winter, you are content to scoop your ashes away and head home.’’
Many thanks to Grove Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.