Small Worlds

Grove. Jul. 2023. 272p. ISBN 9780802161963. $27. F
Nelson’s follow-up to his Costa Award–winning and National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” debut novel Open Water is a loving portrait of a British Ghanaian community in London, told through the eyes of Stephen, a young aspiring jazz musician. During the last few weeks of high school and the following summer, his relationship with his longtime friend and bandmate Del blossoms into romance, but their attendance at different colleges forces a rift. Disillusioned, Stephen drops out and returns home, exacerbating a conflict with his father, who shows disdain at Stephen’s apparent lack of direction and dreams of a music career. Only a family tragedy leads them slowly toward reconciliation. Throughout the novel, its title refers variously to the Ghanaian immigrant community centered on cultural touchstones, including food, music, and faith; families biological or chosen; and romantic relationships between two people.
VERDICT The musicality of Nelson’s language underscores this vibrant and deeply moving tale of love, family, and coming of age. While stories of conflict between first- and second-generation immigrants are common, the cultural richness and specificity of Nelson’s narrative rises above tropes and stereotypes.
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