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  • Published: 1 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241448786
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 208
  • RRP: $22.99

Open Water

A stunning, shattering debut novel about two Black British artists falling in and out of love

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. 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 - trying to make their mark in a city 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.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water 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, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.

  • Published: 1 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241448786
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 208
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Caleb Azumah Nelson

Caleb Azumah Nelson is a 27-year-old British-Ghanaian writer and photographer living in South East London. His photography has been shortlisted for the Palm Photo Prize and won the People's Choice prize. His short story, PRAY, was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2020. His first novel, OPEN WATER, was longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize. He was selected as a National Book Foundation '5 under 35' honoree by Brit Bennett in 2021.

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Praise for Open Water

A beautiful and powerful novel about the true and sometimes painful depths of love

Candice Carty-Williams, Sunday Times bestselling author of QUEENIE

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, bestselling author of HOMEGOING

A short, sharp poetic burst of a novel; it crystallises the torments and heat of young love brilliantly

Andrew McMillan, award-winning author of PHYSICAL

Open Water is 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, award-winning author of SALTWATER

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, award-winning author of HARMLESS DAYS

Open Water has a delicate, painterly quality while packing a real emotional punch. Caleb Azumah Nelson is a real talent

Olivia Sudjic, author of SYMPATHY, EXPOSURE and ASYLUM ROAD

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

Open Water is the most mesmerising read. Caleb Azumah Nelson writes voice like a young Baldwin, placing himself both inside and outside the world he describes. Open Water drew me in, hypnotised me and left me, a few hours later, both devastated and a little high. This is the kind of novel which doesn't let go.

Jan Carson, award-winning author of THE FIRE STARTERS

Open Water encapsulates what it means to fall in love, explores what it means to move through the world whilst black, and explores the beautiful melding of the two. I will always remember it, and I will always return to this novel. A stunning piece of art.

Bolu Babalola, Sunday Times bestselling author of LOVE IN COLOUR

Lush, urban, black, British and beautiful

Inua Ellams, award-winning playwright and poet

This is an amazing debut novel. It's a beautifully narrated, intelligently crafted piece of love that goes deep, then goes deeper. You should read this book. Let's hear it for Caleb Azumah Nelson, also known as the future

Benjamin Zephaniah, award-winning poet, playwright and novelist

Open Water is a very touching and heartfelt book, passionately written, which brings London to life in a painterly, emotive way. I love its musical richness and espousal of the power of the arts - pictures, sounds, movement

Diana Evans, Women's Prize shortlisted author of ORDINARY PEOPLE


Kayo Chingonyi, award-winning author of KUMUKANDA

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, author of AFTERSHOCKS

A brilliant debut whose gentleness and joyfulness are as profound as its examination of the cost of living in a racist society

Megha Majumdar, author of A BURNING

A poetic novel about Black identity and first love in the capital from one of Britain's most exciting young voices

Harper's Bazaar

A debut already attracting awards season buzz, this shattering love story about two Black British artists is a compelling insight into race and masculinity. You'll remember this author's name


An exhilarating new voice in British fiction


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. Utterly transporting, it'll leave you weeping and in awe.


In this achingly tender and intensely moving debut, two Black artists fall in and out of love in South London. Featuring a stunning opening chapter, vulnerability, loss, masculinity and longing are covered. Written in a second person narrative, this is a majestic debut


A hotly tipped new voice in British fiction.


A stunning debut novel...Written in a unique second-person style, and with profound insight into race and masculinity, it's a tender love story you won't forget


Open Water bristles with intelligence and sensuality ... an irresistible debut with the promise of greatness


Nelson's impressive first novel is tender, lyrical, and all-consuming. . . A truly exceptional debut


One of the most beautiful novels I've ever read, impossible to put down even as it made my heart ache. Just stunning


This short debut novel is both a sweet, painful love story to savour and an account of what it means to live in fear in your own city, to be viewed simply as a black body and never truly seen. Nelson's prose is intense and lyrical, with a pleasing scattering of musical references.

New Statesman

Considering the ways identity shapes experience, Open Water is a soulful meditation on art and love

Culture Whisper


Woman & Home


Marie Claire

A lyrical modern love story, just 200 pages but brilliant on music and art, race and London life, I enjoyed it hugely.

David Nicholls, author of ONE DAY and SWEET SORROW

Caleb's debut is soulful and poetic, celebrating and exploring the varying emotions of a blossoming romance while offering an insight into race and masculinity


A book about Black bodies and strength, vulnerability and fear, with a magnetic romance woven throughout that entrances the reader

Evening Standard

Nelson's writing is so accomplished it's hard to believe it comes from a debut author. . . A raw and unvarnished look at what it means to be Black and British


An exciting, ambitious debut... while an elegance of style is a hallmark of Azumah Nelson's storytelling, there is bold risk-taking in his choices too

Michael Donkor, Guardian

Caleb Azumah Nelson's debut novel is an intimate, London-set story of two artists falling in love, learning to show tenderness to one another in a society that's anything but. Nelson writes with grace and poignancy; it's a memorable first novel.


A riveting love story... Written in lyrical and propulsive prose, a searing debut


An emotionally intelligent and tender tale of first love. . . what makes it remarkable is its bracing and nuanced exploration of black masculinity. An abundance of cultural references are framed through the perspective of a black British male - one seldom seen in modern British fiction. It is worth questioning why, and whose stories get to be told. Thankfully, Azumah Nelson has told this tale of art, love and black identity. And what a gift it is.'

The i

[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; thoroughly unforgettable


Lyrical . . . this emotionally rich debut tells a budding love story against backdrops of Black culture, joy, and pain

Entertainment Weekly