Publisher: Penguin UK
Page Count: 240
Release Date: May 11, 2023
*I was provided with an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!*
CW: depression, racial profiling, police brutality, grief, death of a loved one
Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut Open Water was one of my favorite bookish discoveries last year and my appreciation for his writing has only grown after reading his sophomore novel. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Small Worlds hit me even harder and has cemented him as an auto-buy author for me.
Dealing with music and family, love and loss, Small Worlds follows Stephen through various life stages in three consecutive summers. While we still get the author’s signature second person POV in parts of the novel, most of it is written in first person and brings us all the closer to Stephen’s world of emotions. As always, the poetic prose is just so beautiful to read, but at the same time there was an added element of repetition that really served to highlight how cyclical life can be. It also makes you feel everything tenfold – Caleb Azumah Nelson never fails to make his characters’ experiences feel authentic and relatable, be it joy and laughter or pain and sorrow. It is the balance of all these elements – and the way they intertwine – that makes Small Worlds work so well.
I especially enjoyed the focus on family in this one. Family is a complicated beast and Small Worlds truly showed every facet of that. I liked the way sibling-, parental- and mother/son or father/son relationships were depicted. It felt so nuanced, layered and steeped in generational history.
I gaze at my parents, and see that a world can be two people, occupying a space where they don’t have to explain. Where they can feel beautiful. Where they might feel free.
Tender, vulnerable and refreshingly open, I always enjoy Caleb Azumah Nelson’s portrayal of Black culture (in the UK). This one felt special in particular to the many music references, which gave it an extra spark of life. Truly, everything this man writes is just a big recommendation from me!
Fazit: 5/5 stars! No notes – this was a stunning book!
2 thoughts on “Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson (ARC/Book Review)”
The second-person narration can be so destabilizing. I’m glad to see that it’s definitely no flaw in this story and the poetic narrative does sound quite exquisite here too. Great review, Kat. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it. 🙂
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The second person POV was only for a bit in the third act this time around, whereas it was the entirety of Open Water. Using it more sparsely here maybe added to me enjoying Small Worlds more. It’s really a fantastic book!
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