Cover Image: Open Water

Open Water

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Member Reviews

Unique and beautiful are two words to describe the writing in <b>Open Water</b> by Caleb Azumah Nelson whilst thought provoking describes his story.    I'm certain there are other words to define his writing style, for the way he strung his words together, but I don't know them.    It was lyrical, almost poetic, the refrain of his words imparting a musical quality.   Certain phrases repeated over and over in different contexts but they reinforced his message just like the chorus of a song.

The main characters, male and female, were both unnamed.   They were both creative.  He a photographer and musically inclined, she a dancer.    Not only did they share a creative bent but they had a common love of music, finding themselves able to breathe freely, to be seen, to forget their fears when at clubs filled with others who looked just like them.    This made the musical quality of the writing even more fitting.   

These two shared similar backgrounds and had an undeniable attraction to each other.    The story showed the arc of their relationship and I enjoyed the way it developed.    An invisible thread keeping them together, loving each other.   And yet, like any thread it was not immune to severance and this story showing the thread being pulled taut to breaking point.     Tensions developing between them because of an inability for him to express his fears. 

The inherent fear associated with being a young black male in a predominantly white society.   It's not about slavery.   It is afterall a contemporary novel but make no mistake it is about freedom, or the lack of.  It's about skin colour.   It's about the feeling of not being seen for who they are but what they represent as a result of having black skin.   Its about unfair suspicions on people with their (his) appearance.   It's about going out and not knowing whether you'll get back.  And its about how these fears infiltrate everyday life.

This message caused me to reflect on my own attitudes towards those who look different to me.    Do I unwittingly cast aspersions, suspect wrongdoing?     I would like to claim innocence but fear I may have done this.     I mentioned the writing was beautiful and I highlighted passage after passage.  Huge chunks of text that resonated with me, opened my eyes and my heart to his message.   Too many to select a favourite but the following demonstrates some of what this review has focussed on.

This of an unprovoked search:

<b>" They say many residents describe a man fitting your description. They ask where you are going and where you have come from. They say you appeared out of nowhere. Like magic, almost. They don’t hear your protests. They don’t hear your voice. They don’t hear you. They don’t see you. They see someone, but that person is not you. They would like to see what is in your bag. Your possessions are scattered across the ground in front of you. They say they are just doing their jobs. They say you are free to go now." </b>

And this following yet another search only days later:

<b>" They ordered you to the ground for symbolic purposes. Playing dead. You let out a skinny whimper sharp as a butter knife. You heard the sound rattle in your chest, pressing shut unserious features. Total eclipse. When you came to, you were beside yourself. This is what it means to die, you thought. Total eclipse. The sky turned black. Ha. You looked in one of their eyes and saw the image of the Devil. He had an index finger gripping the trigger, like he was holding onto a lifeline. He looked scared, behind the crumpled forehead, the hard eyes, he looked scared. He looked scared of what he did not know, of what was different.</b>

Of planning a night out dancing:

<b>You’re looking forward to forgetting, albeit briefly, the existential dread which plagues you, which tightens your chest, which pains your left side. You’re looking forward to forgetting that, leaving the house, you might not return intact. You’re looking forward to freedom, even if it is short, even if it might not last. You’re looking forward.</b>

And then in their place of safety, where they feel free from anxiety and immerse themselves in the music.

She says

<b>"I dance to breathe but often I dance until I’m breathless and sweaty and I can feel all of me, all those parts of me I can’t always feel, I don’t feel like I’m allowed to. It’s my space. I make a little world for myself, and I live.’

While he says
<b> Do not resist the call of a drum. Do not resist the thud of a kick, the tap of a snare, the rattle of a hi-hat. Do not hold your body stiff but flow like easy water... Can you hear the horns? Your time has come. Revel in glory for it is yours to do so. You worked twice as hard today, but that isn’t important, not here, not now. All that matters is that you are here, that you are present, can’t you hear? What does it sound like? Freedom?"

And finally, the way he thinks of their relationship

<b>" You’re like a pair of jazz musicians, forever improvising . Or perhaps you are not musicians, but your love manifests in the music. Sometimes, your head tucked into her neck , you can feel her heartbeat thudding like a kick drum. Your smile a grand piano, the glint in her eye like the twinkle of hands caressing ivory keys. The rhythmic strum of a double bass the inert grace she has been blessed with, moving her body in ways which astound. A pair of soloists in conversations so harmonious, one struggles to separate. You are not the musicians but the music. It’s one thing to be looked at, and another to be seen.

The quotes I've used are from an ARC and are subject to change.   
It was a long review as I has many things to think upon.   Suffice to say, I loved the book and the more I think on it the more impressive I find it.     If you get the opportunity to read Open Water I highly recommend you take it.    My thanks to the author, to Black Cat (an imprint of Grove Atlantic) and to Netgalley for the opportunity of reading this digital ARC in exchange for an honest review which it was my absolute pleasure to provide.
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Though I'd long looked forward to reading Open Water, I ended up struggling with both the story and the writing. The story itself seemed to meander and was slow to develop any real momentum. I think that was in part because the writing was a little too fussy. It felt like the author was trying too hard to create something different/artsy. Though it was a short book, I struggled to finish and will not be sharing my thoughts on any other platforms.

I none the less appreciate the opportunity to read this book.
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--Death is not always physical, and crying is not always an expression of pain-- 
I think there is something extremely beautiful about debut novels and when writers like Caleb Azumah Nelson launch their novels, their writing style, the way they've weaved the words to make this story, it is simply out of the world and that's what makes me really enthusiastic for debut novels because it gives me the opportunity to read the works of people like Caleb Azumah Nelson. 
So where do I begin? Can my words do justice to this beautifully written debut novel? Will what I write even be considered a review considering the fact that I don't think I can review this book. 
--Under what condition does the uncontainable stay contained? Things unsaid don’t often remain so. They take shape and form in ways one doesn’t expect, manifesting in touches, glances, gazes, sighs--
So here it is. I'm not reviewing this book. I'm just going to talk about why I love this book because I don't think my review would do justice to this book. 
I was honestly a little sceptical when I heard that it was written in the second person narrative and even when I started it I put it off the next moment. But as the title is- Open Water, this book is an open water and you need to let yourself be swept off by the waves of this book and trust that you'll have a promising journey throughout.  
I never really knew second person narrative can be so effective until I read this book. It's like you're there, you're the one experiencing those vulnerable moments. When the incidents of injustice, discrimination are mentioned, I can feel my heart beat fasten, it's like I'm there, I'm the one they're targeting, it's like I'm feeling all the emotions that are described. 
This book was so poetic and lyrical and so beautifully written that I wanted to capture everything written in this book. There is some romantic essence in this book but the way the author has carved out his words in such a way that the romance in this book doesn't feel too much and it is well balanced with the other strong topics of discrimination and racism that the protagonist faces in his life almost every day and how it affects not only him but everyone around him, how his mother prays that her children return home safely, how he finds it difficult to articulate his feels, how they are merely surviving every day and not really living.
This book is simply painfully beautiful and so often there are phrases that are repeated over and over to add on to the effect, to add on to the emphasis and to add on to the beauty of the whole book and I don't think there is another way to describe this book. In the end, the best way to describe my feelings regarding this book will be through this quote from this book: 
"There's so much more you wish to say but there aren't the words"
This book is a masterpiece and i want every one of you to read it once!
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Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson was nothing short of INCREDIBLE!

Thoughtfully and carefully constructed prose, second-person introspection, and with an overall poetic-based narrative to match... it was much more than I expected!! 

Kudos to Nelson for this debut which is easily one of my favorite of the year and I imagine will conjure several awards, over time. 

In this novella we meet two rising Black artists in London who equally come to the table with their own past and present struggles. It is a Black love story at its core and Nelson masterfully crafts what it means to be seen by those two main characters and their budding relationship.  And just as we begin to witness those intricacies, he hits us majorly with what it means, in contrast, to be vulnerable and naked in the context of race and masculinity. To be a person who is viewed only as a body by the larger society and to lean on the safety of the love you’ve claimed as your own. Major themes that hit hard and reveal the tension between being celebrated and being rejected.

One of my favorite passages: 

We find ourselves unseen. We find ourselves unheard. We find ourselves mislabelled. We who are loud and angry, we who are bold and brash. We who are Black. We find ourselves not saying it how it is. We find ourselves scared. We find ourselves suppressed, you said. But do not worry about what has come before, or what will come; move.

I especially enjoyed the contemporary references, especially the Boyz and The Hood analogy. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me a copy of this very necessary book in exchange for an honest review. Make sure you grab your copy!
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Caleb Azumah Nelson has written a magical fevered-dream of a book about love and living as a black youth dealing everyday with the casual racism of southeast London. The poetry in the writing is thrilling. I could not read the words fast enough. I too had a fever when it was over.

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The story is narrated through a second-person perspective is focused around the two young Black-British artist (in this instance, ‘she’, a female dancer and ‘you’, a male photographer). From their first meeting, the photographer is attracted  by the dancer who at a time is going out with a friend of his. After a brief period, they can no longer resist the attraction they feel for one another. Then they fall in love and challenges soon start to test their newly formed bond.

First of all I don’t think it’s much of a romantic story at all, it’s more an insight into a Black- British young man’s vulnerabilities and the role language plays in his narrative. There is a lot of meditation on blackness and black masculinity in it and how the systematic racism muddles the everyday experiences of black people.

The second person narrative is fine but i can’t deny the feeling that the black masculine narrative in the book is somewhat undermining the role of black females in the society. Moreover, there are lots of references to art and music in this novel which at times make it more like essays collection rather than a fiction. Due to the same reason the story felt a little disjointed and repetitive to me. Having all said, this book raised many important issues such as identity, trauma of racism, and police brutality. In this sense, there is certainly much more to it than I took from the novel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect that well with the story.
*𝙏𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙠𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙉𝙚𝙩𝙂𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙮, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙧 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙂𝙧𝙤𝙫𝙚 𝘼𝙩𝙡𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙘  𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙨𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝘼𝙍𝘾 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙢𝙚 𝙞𝙣 𝙚𝙭𝙘𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙝𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙤𝙥𝙞𝙣𝙞𝙤𝙣.
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This book was enjoyable however in my opinion it didn’t quite live up to all of its hype. 

For me the characterisation lacked depth. I wasn’t invested in either of the main characters and I did find the writing style a little odd in parts. I did enjoy the concept of the story and liked how the relationship developed throughout the book even if it. Was a little bit predictable. All in all good but not a patch on books such as Toffee, Black Flamingo and Clap when you land.
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Too much purple for me. I like lyrical and dramatic writing, but I didn't find enough that I could sink my teeth in to. Definitely will work well for some, but not for me.
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Title: Open Water
Author: Azumah Nelson
Publisher: Grove Press
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Rating: Four
"Open Water" by Azumah Nelson

My Opinion:

'Open Water' was a wonderfully written book written from the perspective of the male character's second-person narration set in London and centers on two black artists who meet and have a quick connection after meeting in a bar. We find the male character is a British photographer, and the female character is a British dancer who was both black.

The story has a tenderness about it between these two that will quickly seem believable, drawing you into the story where there will be some severe issues dealt with.

As you read through this love story, one can easily be mesmerized by its creative masterpiece from its start to the end. This intimate love story was beautifully written as the couple first meets, and the story builds as one continues to read like poetry flowing beautifully, lyrical, and expressive. Be ready for an 'emotional, powerful, beautiful, identity, grief, loss, love, violence, mental health, long-distance,' and absolutely, in the end; you are given a touching story that will keep your attention turning the pages to see what is coming next.

There is a lot more to say about this read, but I will stop and say you must pick up this good read, "Open Water," and see how well this author brings it out so well to the readers.

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I finished this beautiful book yesterday. Apparently, it’s only 160 pages, but the experience of reading it felt longer. I could honestly read 100s of pages more. 

Nelson’s writing felt like poetry at times. It made my body ache, gave me knots in my stomach, a lump in my throat. 

It’s a love story. About two Black artists in London. She a dancer. He a photographer. They experience a summer of love. There is something so incredibly special about falling in love in the summertime. I remember summer of 2010.

It’s about masculinity and mental health. About allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of another person. “’s easier for you to hide in your own darkness, then emerge cloaked in your own vulnerability.”

It’s about art and music and literature and dance! Kendrick, and Solange, Zadie Smith and Moonlight. And Hanif! The connection to dance in A Little Devil in America, which also reminded me of Ada dancing in Freshwater. “The ancestors visit us and we let them take over.”

It’s also about being a Black man in the world, and the trauma that comes along with it. About who he is as a person, but what the world chooses to see instead. “...he, too, knew he had been marked for destruction, that he had spent a life so close to death that it was less a life lived and more one survived.”

There are so many more beautiful passages I wish I could share, and so much more I’d love to say, but I’m hoping you’ll just read it, honestly. 

Open Water is out TODAY. Thank you @netgalley & @groveatlantic for the eARC.
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Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (📆 April 13, Grove Press)
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
💬 ❝You don’t always like those you love unconditionally. Language fails us, always. Flimsy things, these words, and everything flounders in the face of real gratitude.❞
📖 Two people meet and fall in love. It is as simple as that. And yet it is so much more.
👍 I, truly, cannot put into words how much I loved this book. For such a small novel (under 200 pages) and for such a simple story, it is The Most beautiful book I’ve read this year. The writing is pure poetry. I cannot stress enough that the writing in this book is on another level. There are all of these little snippets of beautiful phrases that get repeated again and again throughout the book. But this technique never feels redundant because each time they appear, they’re used in new and interesting ways, often exploring new ideas, concepts, or trails or leading thoughts in a different direction entirely. They’re like this silver thread holding the story together, weaving in and out of scenes and pulling everything together. Our two main characters are also so fully realized and have lives that are so lived in that it seems as though we’ve just dropped in on this one moment in their story. They existed before this and will continue to exist after. Part of that feeling is the way they discuss art and literature and music. This book is overflowing with references and love for the characters favorite musicians and authors. I have such a hard time talking about books that I loved and this is no exception. I just need everyone to read it.
👎Absolutely no criticism from me.
📚Pair With: Luster by Raven Leilani, Another Country by James Baldwin
⚠️Content Warning: Racism, Police brutality, Hate crime, Racial slurs, Sexual content, Suicidal thoughts, and Violence (via @the.storygraph)
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After reading the blurb of this book, I had high expectations…unfortunately I just could not connect with the story.  The lyricalness of the writing, although beautiful just didn’t help matters for me. Overall, it fell flat for me.
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Wow.  What a beautifully written story of two Black artists who meet, feel instant chemistry and remain close friends for some time before falling in love.  However, the story is about so much more than their relationship.  

"It's one thing to be looked at, and another to be seen."  How true these words are.  That line really struck a chord with me.  In our daily lives, we are looked upon by many people, but so few truly "see" us.  Open Water repeats this line a few times, and applies it not only to the relationship between the two main characters, but also to what it means to be seen as a Black man in today's world.

It was a heartbreaking look at how different the Black experience is from what I've experienced as a white woman.  What really jumped out at me was when the main character instinctively pulled down the hood on his jacket (which was keeping him warm) when he walked by a police officer.  Not because he had done anything wrong, but simply because he understands how he is unfairly perceived just because of his skin color.  I reread that passage twice in an attempt to fully grasp what it is like to live in a Black body.  While I can never truly know what that feels like, this book certainly provided a glimpse of the injustice and ugliness that is so prevalent in this world.

The story is written in second person weaves back and forth from the relationship at the heart of the story to the main character's experiences with racism.  The impact of his experiences end up impacting his relationship as well, so everything really ties together well.  

This was a very beautifully written book that had a lot of depth for being a shorter novel.  To me, it read almost like poetry.  I would recommend this novel to anyone.  

Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the advance copy of this book.
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3 stars

I finished this book in a single afternoon. It's definitely the kind of book that you can get swallowed up in. 

What I didn't like: 
- a bit hard to follow
- some attempts at literary devices, particularly near the beginning of the book, felt forced and fell flat. many metaphors/similes seemed to be purely decorative and not very useful. 
     For ex, when his lover yawns:
     ‘It’s contagious and she laughs as the baton is passed in a race only sleep will win.’ 
- you get what's trying to be conveyed, but it's confusing to me what the function of a metaphor like this is. 
- repetition is used as a literary device and at points i think it really works, but other times i felt it was distracting and confusing.
- first third, i feel, could've been edited better.
- stream of consciousness style writing was a bit much at times

What I loved; 
- this book really sings when the protagonist talks about Black art. he is very well versed in so many things - music, literature, movies, paintings, drawings, photography, etc. he knows the pieces well and he describes them beautifully, viscerally. and he weaves the ideas of the art throughout the narrative of the story very well.
- grappling with the topic of anti-Black violence and the great burden it places on those who experience it
- having a life full of moments of being stared at, glared at, under a violent gaze as opposed to being seen as fully human, flaws and all.
- the heart wrenching nature of loving someone, the fear of being fully known and seen, the faith it takes to be in love.

Overall, i'd recommend reading this. It's a pretty quick one and the author has some fantastic bits about Black art and his experience as a Black man living in our racist world.

I haven't posted my review on instagram yet but when I do it'll be here:
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[3 Stars]

I think this story contained a lot of important topics and conversations, but overall it fell a little flat for me.  I wonder if part of that had to do with the formatting.  I'm not sure if my ebook was messed up or what, but there were a lot of odd paragraph break issues and dialogue between two characters would blur together in a way that made it hard to understand who had said what. The lyricalness of the writing, while gorgeous, also contributed to this problem.
If you like verse/poetry-esque writing and stories about the black experience and what it means to love, I would recommend this book.
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Caleb Azumah Nelson’s first novel is a powerful and deeply emotional story of love and the black experience. Nelson gives light to how exhausting it is to make yourself smaller and the heat of scars left by trauma, of any kind, but especially racism and violence. He accurately portrays how trauma can haunt you and how anger can suffocate you and chip away at everything that makes you human. It is incredibly eye opening into trauma but also the after affects of anxiety and depression. Nelson describes how love can help heal or provide comfort to those scars if you let it. Every single word in this novel is powerful. There are no words that can accurately describe how tender, raw, and captivating this short novel is. It needs to be on your TBR! 

“Multiple truths do exist, and you do not have to be the sum of your traumas.”
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This is the story between two Black British students of Ghana origins who are both artists and meet in a pub in London and the love story between them.

I really like the style of the writing in this book. This is also a short and fast read but is also quiet unputdownable, as well. I was simply hooked into this mesmerizing love story--it develop as a friendship between the two and soon became a love story. Nonetheless, though I am not much a of romantic book fanatic, I enjoyed reading this book--worth four stars!

Thank You Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC--this review is based on my honest opinion.
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A beautiful literary romance novel following two Black artists in London. Told in the second-person and implementing poetic language, it is a stunning portrait of desire and longing in light of mental health and anxiety stemming from white supremacy and police brutality. An intimate and heartbreaking story. I do think the narrative could have been more focused structurally, but overall it is a must read.
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Open Water is a debut novel about two  young Black British artists falling in and out of love. It is a potent literary romance which asks what it means to be a person in a world that only sees you as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only expected for strength, to find safety in only, only to lose it. Nelson has delivered an achingly true male perspective of love through his intimate beautifully crafted prose. 

Literary fiction isn’t my thing. So why do I still read it you ask? The synopsis drew me  in and I like to challenge myself to broaden my horizons. The proses were well crafted and read so poetically. I must admit, I found second person narrative detaching. Not knowing the names or backstory felt a bit distant. For me, the writing was more beautiful than the story. When I finished it, I felt like I didn’t have much of a takeaway other than it was beautifully written. I think a buddy read would have been more fruitful. It is a book that needs to be discussed and would make a great book club choice! That being said, I’m glad I dabbled my toes into the literary world. I enjoyed the atmospheric cinematic feel and it was refreshing to read a love story that felt more organic.

I recommend Open Water for lovers of lyrical prose and for a vulnerable intimate portrayal of Black love.
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This debut novel has a simple plot-a guy and a girl fall in love, and navigate the tricky open waters of caring about someone else as much as you do about yourself, and for the first time as an adult. The novelty lies in the moving exploration of what it means to be a young Black person in a time of increasing racism and parochialism, and how trauma, both generational and contemporary, can effect behaviour in unexpected ways and make it hard to fully connect. I really enjoyed the style of writing, a lyrical stream-of-consciousness narration, which not everyone can pull without it seeming gimmicky. The author makes it work as a part of the theme-you're experiencing the unnamed narrator's daily life and his inner thoughts,  as he makes his way through the day, the sense of community and joy from his friends, but also the fear that he feels, and the rage, at all the many micro-aggressions he experiences, are an important part of that.  found it refreshing that the author chose to show us his rage and his fear-these are feelings too many of us just brush off, and ignore, because we're so used to it. It's not right to expect that as the norm, though-as my husband and I were discussing, many Black musicians have spoken of the fact their "cool" personas derive from literally centuries of being forced to suppress rage at mistreatment by authorities of law enforcement or anyone in a position of relative authority. That's something the author brings up as well-the unnamed narrator, at one point, after one instance too many, finds that he's unable to maintain his cool, and even engage with his partner, and it's lovely that he's given the space to fall apart, without a neat ending. The changes in narrative tone make this feel very real-from the joys of meeting 'The One', to the confusing pas-de-deux at the start of a relationship,  being in love and having it reciprocated, which helps you ignore some of the difficult realities of life. Sometimes that's just not enough, though. The book ends on a hopeful note-it's easy to exhort people not to be defined by trauma, but that has very real-world implications. Despite that, you soldier on and you surround yourself with people you love and who get you, and that can make it bearable. Will definitely be looking out for this author's other books.  If you're thinking about reading Murakami's latest, 'First Person Singular', pick this one up instead, if you can't pick both. It has the best of Murakami's earlier books-lovely prose on walking around a city, some great music soundtracking your life, thoughts on what it's like to be in love and wholly vulnerable to someone else, without the irritating male gaze of Murakami, and the insufferable solipsism of a typical Murakami male protagonist!
#OpenWater #NetGalley
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