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  • Writer's pictureNia Forrester

'Open Water' by Caleb Azumah Nelson

I don't know if I've always liked the name 'Caleb' or whether I've just developed a crush on this author for his lyrical, incredibly moving way of expressing himself. This novel reads like a poem, the language is so beautiful. Yaa Gyasi's blurb calls it "tender poetry, a love song to Black art and thought' and there's not much more I can say to improve on that assessment. But I will say this, novels about Black creatives are too few.

'Open Water' catalogs the transformation of the relationship between two of the young, Black and gifted (him, a photgrapher, her a dancer) from acquaintances, to creative collaborators, to best friends, then lovers. The journey isn't a linear one, and doesn't end where either of them believe it will, but it is sweet and aching, and resounds with cultural and current references that most of us will recognize even if we are not--like they are--natives of the UK. What I loved most about this book was that it wasn't just about a couple trying to figure out whether and how to be together, it was about young Black people trying to figure out how to be in their own bodies--how to be seen without attracting negative attention, and how to create so they can be understood.

But I won't lie to you, this is a focused, rather than a casual or quick reading experience. Caleb Nelson's writing straddles the boundary between poetry and prose, and sometimes reads like a mood rather than a narrative. There's a lot of the main protagonist's interior and only brief glimpses of occasions and conversations and occurrences, but all of it works to create a vivid sense of a time in your life when you were in the middle of figuring out who and what to be.

I fell in love with the unnamed lovers a little bit myself, feeling how scared they were to have a connection so deep, worried they couldn't find a home in each other because they were not yet at home within themselves.

Anyway, I'm gushing now. Beautiful book. Beautiful, beautiful book.

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