I read this book for the first time back in 2017. With the release of the sequel last December, I planned to reread Call Me By Your Name. Why? Simply because André Aciman’s novel is one of those books you can read again and again, and everything you do, you read it differently. It touches you in a way it hasn’t touched you before.
Call Me By Your Name is the story of a lifechanging romance between Elio, an adolescent boy, and Oliver, the summer guest at his parent’s villa on the Italian Riviera. In the course of the summer weeks, Elio’s obsession with Oliver travels on the edge of hatred and fascination, uncertainty and passion. Their love seems to be driven by desire but it is more than that. Elio and Oliver find what they never dared to wish for: intimacy.
Reading the novel for the second time after experiencing love for the first time myself, I was struck by the descriptions of shame and intimacy. Aciman expresses what no other author has expressed before. Elio’s constant fight with the shame he feels for what he feels, his longing for being intimate with another human being, his fear of being neglected are one of the purest and most honest accounts of a young man trying to love and be loved I have ever read about.
What Elio and Oliver do not dare to wish for, they find in each other. They find a love that allows them to be who they truly are, without having to hide their true selves. They sleep with each other, see each other naked, speak out what they never dared to talk about before, they discover each other’s bodies with its flaws and imperfections. What touches me most about this book is its honesty. Call Me By Your Name is not a cheesy rom-com with beautiful actors who have wonderful skin, bleached teeth, and faked smiles. This love is determined by the reality of feelings and intimacy. What it means to love another human being. What it means to stand next to him or her as he or she reveals his true self to you, and to vow to truly love the person in front of you.
Elio and Oliver’s love reminds me of the myth of soulmates in Greek Mythology. Accordingly, humans were originally created with four arms and four legs, as well as a head with two faces. Fearing that humans might become too powerful, Zeus split them apart, punishing them to a life in search of their other half. Through Oliver, Elio can become himself. Through Elio, Oliver can become himself. Their connection gives them the freedom to be real and honest. Elio is Oliver, and Oliver is Elio. They call each other by their names because Oliver “is more myself than I am” as Elio explains.
Elio’s father acknowledges how rare Elio and Oliver’s connection is. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime-thing. What Elio and Oliver share may not last forever, or may not be bound to have a happy ending, but that does not make it any less real. With the end of their summer, Elio is tempted to ban everything he feels and wishes to forget. Nevertheless, his father advises him not to.
In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. […] 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!page 224
This is what I took from the book this time. Don’t numb the pain. Don’t forget. Let it hurt. Let the memories come. Let them overcome you. Nourish them. Let them drive you. How wonderful they are! How wonderful to come back after 5, 10, 20 years and find an old postcard, or shirt, or smell the citronella candles, or visit a certain street in Rome and be overflooded by memories. It’s the memories we keep that make us feel alive.
This book is about love. Love for a person you desire and wish to become intimate with. Love for a father who accepts you the way you are. Love for a friend who you meet at the shore every afternoon. Love for the gardener who picks the juiciest peaches you have ever tasted. Love for a place you share so many memories with. Love for good food, talks at the dinner table about art and philosophy, the sound of the cicadas, the smell of the sea, the feeling of the sun on your skin.
I am looking forward to reading the sequel Find Me soon. Call Me By Your Name is a wonderful, unique and inspiring book that is so complete in itself that I am curious to find out how Aciman reimagined or continued the story. I will keep you updated.
Paperback, 248 pages