cover image Small Worlds

Small Worlds

Caleb Azumah Nelson. Grove, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6196-3

Nelson revisits the Southeast London setting of Open Water in this astonishing account of a young British Ghanaian man’s dueling desires to please his parents and pursue his passion for music. The reader first meets narrator Stephen in church in summer 2010, where at 18 he’s humbled and quieted by the call to prayer, describing it as the chance to “speak to someone who is both us and the people we want to be.” When the music starts, though, Stephen doesn’t need to be anywhere else or become anyone else. With a bass line “getting to the heart of things” and a “pianist play[ing] secret chords from the soul,” he dances with his older brother, Raymond, their bond wordless and powerful. That night, Stephen and Raymond pursue their true calling, putting on a dance party with their friends and spinning old grime records. A year later, after Stephen has completed his first year of college, dancing provides relief from the pressure put on him by his father to prepare for a stable future, which comes to a head after Stephen announces he’s dropping out. Nelson plays their confrontation beautifully, mixing Stephen’s defiance with a yearning for acceptance, so when his father kicks him out of the house, the effect is even more devastating. Nelson’s assured writing captures the pulse of a dance party, the heat of a family’s bond, and the depth of spiritual fervor to conjure a story­ as infectious as a new favorite song. (July)