André Aciman on returning to first loves a decade later in his new novel

Al Woodworth on October 29, 2019
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Find_me_Cover.jpgAndré Aciman is, perhaps, best known for writing the novel Call Me Be Your Name -- the heady, intense, love story of Elio and Oliver that unfolds over the course of one summer. The novel was later made into a movie, delighting fans, and now there’s an even larger reason to rejoice: André Aciman has returned to Elio and Oliver finding them ten years after we last left them.

Find Me is once more a tribute to the love stories of men—of desire, want, and obsession. While less like Call Me By Your Name's fever dream of young love, Find Me is as equally satisfying and just as much a page-turner. Though everyone is a decade older, their hopes and dreams of love and companionship are just as vivid, and "obsessive” as Aciman says. In our interview we talked about falling in love for the first time, revisiting Elio and Oliver, music, the movie, and, of course, Italy.

Al Woodworth, Amazon Book Review: You talk about wanting to return to Elio and Oliver and that they never left you. I imagine that many characters that you’ve written about stay with you in some way (or not! Correct me if I’m wrong). But what made Elio and Oliver stand-out?

André Aciman: Many of my characters do return, and sometimes with the same names. But Elio and Oliver are special. One can’t read about them without falling in love with the intensity of their love. Their summer together in the “mid-eighties” is still with me, and when I hear a piece of music I listened to while writing Call Me by Your Name I am immediately transported to their love and to the summer I wrote that novel. There was something so genuine, so visceral, so immediately gripping in their love, that it stays with me, the author, as it does with both my readers and those who saw the film. The story itself becomes like the memory of a first love, and, like all loves, stays with you forever.

I remember reading that you said that you wrote Call Me by Your Name very quickly, in four months or so. What was the writing process like for Find Me?

Find Me is a totally different kind of novel, and I wanted it to be different. I wasn’t about to write a Call Me by Your Name Revisited! Find Me is a more deliberate novel; the characters are older, more thoughtful, in many ways, wiser, and hence more cautious, though they are not willing to forfeit happiness. The writing process itself, though driven by the characters’ memory of their old love, has far more dialogue and is less centered on Elio’s internal monologues. Introspection comes easily to me, dialogue does not—hence the writing process was more challenging.

Find Me takes place ten years after that unforgettable summer – how/why did you decide to pick up their story that far after they fell in love?

I knew that Elio visited Oliver 15 years after they separated, and I knew that Oliver visited Elio 20 years after their fateful summer together. These dates were established in Call Me by Your Name. But I figured that something must have happened in between those years, and I wanted to focus on the father—a sublimely wise and experienced man (judging from his speech to his son) who finds himself suddenly and unexpectedly falling in love. I wanted the son to give his father some advice as well, now that he too has grown older.

Italy is a central character in Call Me By Your Name, how did you approach place in Find Me?

I never like to give too specific descriptions of places. Just a few hints and brushstrokes is all I need. The novel takes place in November. Even in November, Italy has always represented the pleasures of life—foods, scents, sounds, beaches, sensuality—while New York in November may have hints of an enduring Indian summer but it already anticipates the winter to come. Paris in November is already cold, but not terribly so. I love Paris in the evening. I love warm clothing in Paris. But writing about Italy puts all my senses on alert. I love life when writing about Italy.

After I finished the book I kept trying to articulate how the love of Samuel, and even Elio and Oliver was somehow less fervent than in their younger years. But every time I would try to nail down the differences, they would seem to evaporate. Sami, Elio, and Oliver’s passion is just as vivid, just as obsessive and intense. They are each still filled with doubt, with wanting to be loved by a partner. How do you think a person’s age changes their desire for love?

First love always retains something magical about it. As we grow older, wisdom, caution, and experience stand in the way—hesitation, timidity, and reluctance don’t help either. But all great loves are obsessive. A love without obsession doesn’t reach very high temperatures.

The novel also explores the deep relationship between Sami and Elio – they’re both fairly open with their relationships, their insecurities. They wander the streets of Rome, pointing out the places where they have fond memories. How important was it for you to explore love between lovers, and a parent and child? In some ways it feels like in Find Me, Sami has learned from Elio’s experience ten years earlier.

I very much wanted to show that the roles between father and sons are very quietly reversed. If the father gives Elio great advice in Call Me by Your Name, in Find Me it is the son who marvels on seeing his father in love and tells his father “I see you now— not as my father, but as a man in love. I’ve never seen you like this. It makes me very happy, almost envious to see you. You are so young suddenly. It must be love.” Their relationship is intensely intimate. They not only share their joy in seeing the other love someone but they also share with one another their memories of their own loves, as Elio does on taking the father to a wall in Rome where Oliver had once kissed him.

Part of what’s so wonderful about books is that each reader brings their own vision to the characters and places of a novel – there are no pictures – they are individual to each reader. But of course, that all changes when a movie is made, like it was for Call Me By Your Name. Did the movie affect, at all, your ability to re-discover your characters? Or did it encourage you to revisit them?

To use Microsoft Word lingo, the movie “overwrote” how I saw Elio and Oliver after seeing the faces of the actors. I could no longer see Elio and Oliver as I had imagined them. But in writing Find Me I did not see Elio as Timothée Chalamet any longer; I saw Elio as a 32-year-old man whose face was not defined at all. The film and the public’s reaction to the film did not induce me to write Find Me; what they did do is give me the confidence and the courage to revisit my characters.

Who are some of the writers that you return to regularly for inspiration or comfort? What are you reading now?

I am reading Penelope Lively now. But I just came back from Budapest and am also reading a fascinating book, Budapest 1900.


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