jo's Reviews > Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
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's review
Sep 18, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: queer, africa, im-emigration-post-colonial, books-i-teach
Read in November, 2008

i was entirely captured by the first two sections of this book. unlike my good friend jeff, i found myself totally taken by pretty boys writing books and talking music and philosophy in a villa on the italian riviera in the middle of the mediterranean summer. maybe it's because i know the mediterranean summer, though i have never spent it on the riviera or, for that matter, in a villa. there's some scott fitzgerald that takes place in a similar environs, and i dare same some hemingway. i thought i had had enough of decadent descriptions of life on the riviera in the summer, but nope, i hadn't and haven't.

this is all foil. the real story is the depiction of unbearable adolescent longing and lust, mixed with guilt, self-hatred, impossibility, and an overwhelming sense of doom. i found the subtle description of the tiny nuances of these complex feelings riveting, pitch-perfect, and heartbreaking (because, let's face it, none of us ever entirely outgrows his or her adolescence, the same as we never outgrow our childhood: rather, we pile all these former selves inside us, perching the adult precariously on top).

i lost interest, instead, when the novel moved into the third part. but this is probably me. after all that skin and sun, nighttime rome felt contrived to me. it is also more difficult to describe perfect happiness than perfect misery, and less interesting to read about it.

i would like to mention the fact that, to the best of my judgement, this egyptian author makes his protagonist italian (yes?), and that both lovers are jewish, one sephardic the other one presumably ashkenazi (aciman is himself a sephardic jew). quite a bit is made of the jewishness at the beginning; later, though, it gets dropped out of the novel. since the beginning is the part in which longing and loss are most prominent, this seems significant to me. elio's isolation (he doesn't have any friends, he spends all day alone with is music, his parents are worried about him, he is not much interested in girls) is a mixture of gayness, overcultivation (at some point oliver asks him, "do you know everything?" and, truly, he does!), and jewishness.

equally intriguing, in the same melancholy and doomed way, is the little girl vimimi (what kind of name is that???), who lives with her leukemia and her certain death like a top-notch stoic.

*** SPOILER ***

i'm angry at this book for the violence it consciously does to one's heart strings, and i'm particularly angry at the very last part, in which the description of failed lives made out of missed chances reaches a truly tragic pitch. but the first part, with all the sun and the lust, with the uncertainty and the despair and the intolerable longing, with the blind heartache that hits kids who haven't yet gotten used to life, that spoke to me.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Simon (new)

Simon Nice review.

Jeff the entire tragedy of beautiful youth is that it fades away . . . isn't that the point. those boys could never be in their forties what they pretended to be in their teens and early twenties . . . and remember your early and late adolescence? if it was anything like mine, the allure for such blissful ignorance is heady but thank god I got far, far away from that person. I'd much rather lead a complicated life of daily ambivalence in my forties than suffer through the crushing pain of being seventeen again

message 3: by Simon (new)

Simon "I'd much rather lead a complicated life of daily ambivalence in my forties than suffer through the crushing pain of being seventeen again"

Hear, hear. I second that, damn right.

message 4: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo i'm delighted for you both that the agonies and complications of 17 are a thing of the past. me, i've been 17 all this time.

message 5: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo also: "the allure for such blissful ignorance is heady"

what blissful ignorance?

Jason The comment that older guy said about turning thirty..... So true

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