Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Open Water

by Caleb Azumah Nelson

A stunning first novel about two young Black artists in London falling in and out of love by a new literary virtuoso, and finalist for the BBC Short Story Award, twenty-six-year-old writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 176
  • Publication Date April 13, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5794-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Publication Date April 13, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5795-9
  • US List Price $16.00

Open Water is tender poetry, a love song to Black art and thought, an exploration of intimacy and vulnerability between two young artists learning to be soft with each other in a world that hardens against Black people.”—Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing

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.

Tags Literary

Praise for Open Water

A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35
Winner of the British Book Award for Debut Fiction
Winner of the Costa first novel award
One of Vulture’s “46 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2021”
One of Guardian( UK)’s 
“Books to Look Forward to this Year”
One of Esquire (UK)’s “21 Books You Should Be Reading in 2021”
One of Cosmopolitan (UK)’s “69 new books by Black and POC authors out in 2021”
One of Elle (UK)’s “2021 Reading List”
One of Vogue (UK)’s “2021’s most dazzling Debut Novels”
One of Frieze’s “What to Look
Forward to in 2021”
One of Stylist (UK)’s “48 Unmissable Books New Books to Read This Year”
One of Evening Standard (UK)’s “Best New Books in 2021”
One of The Metro (UK)’s “10 Gripping Books to Look out for this Year”
One of the New Stateman’s “Most Anticipated Fiction of 2021”
Named a Best Book of the Year by TIME, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Library Journal, Literary Hub, Millions, New Statesman (UK), Guardian (UK)and Harper’s Bazaar Australia

“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”

“A riveting love story that celebrates the cultural significance of Black artists and examines the ways systemic racism figures into every aspect of the lives of young Black men . . . Written in lyrical and propulsive prose, a searing debut.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A first-rate love story that hasn’t been written before . . . essential and beautiful.”—The Face

“Nelson’s impressive first novel is tender, lyrical, and all-consuming. . . . In expertly crafted, poetic prose, this British Ghanaian writer tells the story of two young Black artists falling in love, falling out of love, and learning how to be soft and vulnerable in a society that refuses to allow them to be so. . . . A truly exceptional debut.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Nelson’s breathtaking lyrical debut employs a love story to explore systemic racism and the cultural impact of Black artists. . . . Nelson astutely locates the importance of Black cinema, music, and literature in their lives while capturing the terror brought on by police brutality and the expectations of young Black men to bottle up their emotions. The result is consistently powerful.”—Publishers Weekly

“Sincere and contemplative.”—Vulture

“A powerful and sensitive writer . . .By turns poetic and hopeful, searching and harsh, Open Water is, by all measures, the introduction of a talented new voice in literature.”—Amazon

“An intense, elegant debut.”—Guardian UK

“Achingly tender and intensely moving… A majestic debut.”—Cosmopolitan UK

“A modern love story that pulls the reader close.”—Esquire UK

“Sincere and contemplative.”—Vulture

“Caleb Azumah Nelson explores the power of being truly seen by another, in a world that often refuses to recognize you at all. An exhilarating new voice in British fiction.”—Vogue UK

“For those that are missing the tentative depiction of love in Normal People, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water is set to become one of 2021’s unmissable books… An exploration of desire, love, trauma, race and art. Utterly transporting, it’ll leave you weeping and in awe.”—Stylist UK

“A poetic novel about Black identity and first love in the capital from one of Britain’s most exciting young voices.”—Harper’s Bazaar UK

“This shattering love story about two Black British artists is a compelling insight into race and masculinity. You’ll remember this author’s name.”—Elle UK

“A brilliant debut whose gentleness and joyfulness are as profound as its examination of the cost of living in a racist society.”—Megha Majumdar

“Set to the rhythms of jazz and hip hop, Open Water is an unforgettable story about making art and making a home in another person. In language bursting with grief and joy, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the ode to Black creativity, love, and survival that we need right now.”—Nadia Owusu

Open Water is tender poetry, a love song to Black art and thought, an exploration of intimacy and vulnerability between two young artists learning to be soft with each other in a world that hardens against Black people.”—Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing

“Like the title suggests, Open Water pulls you in with one great swell, and it holds you there closely. A beautiful and powerful novel about the true and sometimes painful depths of love.”—Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie 

Open Water is a beautifully, delicately written novel about love, for self and others, about being seen, about vulnerability and mental health. Sentence by sentence, it oozes longing and grace. Caleb is a star in the making.”—Nikesh Shukla, editor of The Good Immigrant and author of Brown Baby

“A powerful portrayal of the way that systemic violence can make a person forget softness and vulnerability. It exposes the failure of language to encapsulate feeling and illuminates the love and the anger that rage around the edges of everything.”—Jessica Andrews, author of Saltwater 

“An amazing debut novel. It’s a beautifully narrated, intelligently crafted piece of love that goes deep, and then goes deeper. Let’s hear it for Caleb Azumah Nelson, also known as the future.”—Benjamin Zephaniah

“I fell in love at the first line. Open Water is poetry, dance and music, and art, and reading it feels like moving within love, and its iterations through all the above. The book moved me and stilled me, such sumptuous prose, that clarifies whilst also keeping reverence of the sometimes, unexplainable facets of love and life and Blackness. I will always remember it, and I will always return to this novel. A stunning piece of art.”—Bolu Babalola, author of Love in Color

Open Water is about defiance, mourning, art and music. It is an ode to being a full human being in a society that does not see you that way. It is about clinging to love in a world heavy with injustice and violence. There is not a wasted page.”—Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You

“A very touching and heartfelt book, passionately written, that brings London to life in a painterly, emotive way. I love its musical richness and espousal of the power of the arts.”—Diana Evans, author of Ordinary People