Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
We’re edging towards Valentine’s Day, and although the notion of a day to celebrate romance has been a bit over-commodified and stripped of meaning, my Book of the Week selection this week is a truly astounding and achingly romantic debut novel that’s published in the UK today--Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson.
The book follows a young Black man who meets a beautiful and initially somewhat unattainable young Black woman in a South East London pub. As the two protagonists grow closer, we see them begin to connect while both pursuing their artistic passions, with him a photographer and she a dancer. The intimacy that develops between them is startlingly palpable on the page, with the hesitant conversation, and the deep unspoken connections that are evoked in lyrical yet economic language by the author.
But we’re also privy to the challenges that the young man who is our protagonist faces as a Black male in Britain today—the bone-deep trauma that comes from police interactions, and the difficulties in expressing vulnerability alongside Black masculinity. All of that plays into the manner in which the growing romance is navigated, in a way that feels so deeply personal.
The familiarity and soul-level emotional engagement of Nelson’s story is emphasised by the fact that the book is written in the second person (in other words, ‘you’ do this ‘you’ to that, rather than ‘I’ or ‘he’), a clever literary device that makes the book feel at once like an excavation of the character’s soul but also invites us as readers to experience the events not only with our eyes and brains, but our hearts as well. It’s powerfully romantic, and exquisitely written, and that is why Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson is my Book of the Week this week.