Being black is being human, a full fledged human with hands and legs. Any other connotation to it is outrageous.



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.


The first time I picked up this book to read was early this year, but I was quick to drop it because I didn’t enjoy the narrative technique. It was boring to me. But then I have heard people talk about this book and how much they love it and how important it is, so I picked it up for the second time and was determined to read it to the end.

This time around I relaxed my mind to see the true beauty that it is. It is written from the second person perspective, with a male protagonist. I feel like the writer deliberately used this second person voice, ‘you’ to draw readers in. To make them feel like they’re in this story with the two protagonists, to make them feel every emotion with them.

We are all trying to live, to breathe, and find ourselves stopped by that which is out of our control. We find ourselves unseen. We find ourselves unheard. We find ourselves mislabeled. We who are loud and angry, we who are bold and brash. We who are Black.

Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water.

Winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2021, Open water is a story about two Black British artists, the guy, a photographer and the girl, a dancer, who would meet themselves in a pub in London, and who would inevitably grow into something beautiful. Though we would never know the names of these protagonists, yet their story is firm and we’d go on to feel all their fears and insecurities with them.

They meet at a pub, where the girl’s then boyfriend introduces them, but they at once feel something for each other. And this thing they feel is conspicuous, because even the barber in the room with them, senses it. He tells them he knows there’s something going on between them. And even though it isn’t true at the time, it turns out to be true as time goes on. They become friends, and later fall in love with each other.

You came here to speak of what it means to love your best friend. Ask: if flexing is being able to say the most in the fewest number of words, is there a greater flex than love?

Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water.

This book exposes what it feels to be black in the UK. As an African living in Africa, I have never for once thought myself to be black. No. I don’t feel black, because I’m not black. I’m just me. Ezioma, a Nigerian, an African. I have never felt the color of my skin wields so much power to define who I am and I would never know this is the reality of many people, till I began reading books and watching movies.

This protagonist introduces us to his life. A life of pain and fear. A life where being black means you’re a ticking dynamite of crime waiting to explode. Both protagonists have had their fair share of racism, having gone to private British schools in scholarship. They have been segregated just because of their skin color, hence they turn to art for redemption. According to the girl, she feels more like herself, and free when she’s dancing. She feels she can do about anything, as she spreads her hands and dances her pains away.

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.

Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water.
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This their new found love is one that would be very difficult to bloom because they both clasp their vulnerability on their chest, not letting go. She once tells the boy to let her in, to go home. Home means freedom. But the guy would never budge. He has not had an easy life. He is a guy who would remove his hood from his head when he’s passing a policeman to avoid being suspected of crime. But he is being suspected anyways. He is a guy who has lived all his life scared and in anxiety. He lives his house in fears that he would be found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and comes back walking on eggshells, not sure if he would make it home.

Black people are always hunted, attacked and killed, just because they’re black. Being black means you’re the suspect of every violence and suspected violence. Being black means the police can open fire in you just for being, for existing, for simply being human, for placing your hands in your pocket. And they will definitely go scot free, because it is not murder, but self defense.

To give desire a voice is to give it a body through which to breathe and live. It is to admit and submit to something which is on the outer limits of your understanding.

Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water.

Open water is a very important book, that tells a very important story. And I enjoyed reading it. Nelson employed a very powerful and unique technique, and it’s beautiful. I’ll rate it as 4/5.

Have you read the book? What do you feel about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on all social media platforms and share with your friends.
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  1. It is great you decided to pick it up again and try. I haven’t heard of this book, it is definitely not my usual genre. However, it sounds like an interesting book to read and I have enjoyed your review. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.


  2. Novels on racism are very sensitive. The first I ever read was ‘ Second Class Citizens by Buchi Emecheta’ and Independence by Sarah Manyinka. I feel this would be a beautiful book since it crosses across not just racism but that of love. Thank you for the review, Ezioma.

  3. This sounds like a really interesting read. Sometimes a book just needs to find you at the right time, and I’m glad you ended up enjoying this one. Thanks for sharing x

  4. This sounds like a really interesting read. Sometimes a book just needs to find you at the right time, and I’m glad you ended up enjoying this one. Thanks for sharing x


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