Author: Andre Aciman
Publishing Date: 2018
Number of Pages: 248
Genre: Romance, Young Adult Fiction
“Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.” (Source: Goodreads)
Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name is a Lambda Prize winning piece which belatedly been making some noise. Its movie adoption is an Oscar-nominated film. These resulted into booksellers’ doubling their effort in selling copies of the book. This naturally piqued my attention although I was apprehensive about purchasing a copy of the book. But due to sheer curiosity, I still did. Uncharacteristically, I immediately read the book ahead of my other books. The curiosity within me was just overwhelming.
Before reading the book, I already have an inkling that it is about homosexual relationship, a subject I am no stranger to. I have already encountered it in the powerful prose of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I liked both books because of their interesting and unique approach about homosexual relationships. Because of this, I was looking forward to how Aciman approached this sensitive subject.
And I have to approach it independently of the two other books.
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” ~ Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name is centered on the relationship of 17-year-old American-Italian Jewish Elio Perlman and 24-year-old American Jewish scholar Oliver. Oliver stayed with the Perlmans during his stay in Italy. It is the Perlman family’s tradition to take in doctoral students as house guests for six weeks every summer, something that Elio resented because the guests would be using Elio’s room. But everything changed when Oliver was selected as the house guest.
Elio was the one who chose Oliver to be the summer houseguest. Whilst he was hoping to establish affinities with Oliver, he was not too keen on approaching him. There exists a stark dichotomy in their personalities. Whereas Oliver was extroverted and carefree, Elio was introverted. Elio acted as Oliver’s tour guide in Italy, hoping to impress him. Oliver, however, was nonchalant, further fueling Elio’s desire. But one day everything changed and both Elio and Oliver are caught up in a whirlwind of emotions.
From the onset, what stood out is the overwhelming theme of lust and perversion. Elio’s attraction to Oliver is tainted by overwhelming desire and attraction, bordering on obsession. For most of the first half of the novel, the story revolved around it. Aciman choked his readers with unending descriptions of Elio’s juvenile and uncontrollable desire. Although I am used to such subjects, I am nonetheless taken aback. Admittedly, I just wanted to put down the book.
That was my first impression.
“He came. He left. Nothing else had changed. I had not changed. The world hadn’t changed. Yet nothing would be the same. All that remains is dream making and strange remembrance.” ~ Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name
Later on, as I reflected on the story, I begun to understand and appreciate the story’s subtler merits. Elio’s story is a story that everyone can easily relate to. Once in our lives, we were overtaken by an obsessive desire or love for someone. Because of this obsession, our every action is dictated upon by our emotions. As the pull grows stronger, we are more drawn in to the same whirlpool of our emotions Elio fell into. His struggles for emotional control is pretty much the same as our struggles for control over these emotions.
This connection to reality makes Aciman’s story more relatable. Elio is an allegory for the innermost and the most puerile emotions we sanction deep inside of us because we are, most of the time, unsure of how to deal with it. Elio’s internal conflicts and quandaries restricted his actions. Nevertheless, he cannot hide his feelings. Remember the first time you met your high school crush or the proverbial man/woman of your dreams? Although the emotions depicted in the book are way stronger, Aciman was still able to make the reader feel that tingly sensation.
Another interesting aspect to the story is the way Aciman treated Elio. Instead of portraying Elio as an angst-filled brattish teenager, Aciman had a good enough mind to portray him more as an adult. Elio’s emotions and line of thought reeked more of maturity than mere juvenile fantasy. Moreover, his wit and astute observations are among the story’s loftiest achievements because they flowed naturally.
Aciman adopted the right tone and the right pacing for the story. Because of this, the narrative flowed more coherently and pleasurably. Reading about Elio’s experience is like reading about one’s own. Moreover, although there was limited interaction amongst the secondary characters, their interactions were rarely contrived. However, at times, Elio’s voice was at times too overwhelming. Even though this is his story, a little tempering should have been utilized.
One aspect, however, that I lament about the book is the passivity of most of the characters, including Oliver. As previously mentioned, it reeked too much of Elio. Elio doing this, Elio doing that. It is overwhelming considering that there are other interesting characters in the book. There were some interesting subplots but were barely dealt with. Nonetheless, I appreciated that Elio’s family is more open-minded and embraced him for who and what he is.
“What I wanted to preserve was the turbulent gasp in his voice which lingered with me for days afterward and told me that, if I could have him like this in my dreams every night of my life, I’d stake my entire life on dreams and be done with the rest.” ~ Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name
In spite of my initial apprehensions, my expectations of the book were mostly met. Admittedly, I have quite very high expectations of the book because of its movie adaptation (which I haven’t watched yet). It is weird to say it but the manner Aciman navigated a very sensitive topic is commendable, filled with aplomb. Once he got rolling, the story got rolling as well. He reminded us that there is an Elio in us – not necessarily the perverse side of emotions. We all have deeply sated emotions locked deep inside of us and it takes a whole lot of inspiration to let them flow.
Recommended for avid fans of the young adult fiction genre, those who like reading books about the depth of human emotions, those who liked the movie, those who are looking for a pleasurable read, those who like books set in Italy, those who love reading books about homosexual relationships.
Not recommended for those who are easily offended by explicit sexual content, those who dislike young adult fiction in general, and those who dislike reading about young gay Jewish guys.
About the Author
(Photo by Conjur.com.br) André Aciman was born on January 2, 1951 in Alexandria, Egypt. Believing he was a French citizen, he attended British schools in Egypt. Of Jewish origin, his family left Egypt in 1965 due to the tensions between Israel and Egypt.
After his father obtained Italian citizenship, the Aciman family, except for the father, moved to Rome as refugees. In 1968, the family moved again, now to New York City. In 1973, Aciman obtained a bachelor of arts in English and Comparative literature from Lehman College. He finished is masters and doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard University in 1988.
His writing career began with the publication of his memoir, Out of Egypt, in 1995. It is a widely reviewed work. His next success came in 2007 with the publication of Call Me By Your Name. The book won 2007 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction. His other works include Eight White Nights (2010), Harvard Square (2013) and Enigma Variations (2017).
Currently, Aciman is a professor at the Graduate Center of City University of New York. He teaches history of literary theory and the works of Marcel Proust. He is married and has three children.