André Aciman on His Much-Anticipated Follow Up to 'Call Me By Your Name'

Professor André Aciman
Professor Anrdré Aciman

This week marks the release of one of the year’s most-anticipated novels —one that fans of Distinguished Professor André Aciman (Comparative Literature, French) have been waiting for since 2007, when he published the acclaimed and awarding-winning Call Me By Your Name.
Find Me, Aciman’s new book, revisits Elio and Oliver, whose romance was the subject of Call Me By Your Name, while also revealing new sides of Samuel, Elio’s father — a cult figure in his own right, particularly after the 2017 film adaptation of the novel. Aciman last spoke to The Graduate Center about the release of that film, which went on to win an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Here he discusses Find Me
The Graduate Center: Call Me by Your Name is a beloved and iconic novel. Did you have any concerns about reviving characters who have meant so much to so many readers?
Aciman: No, I wasn’t nervous. I’ve been thinking of doing this — of taking on the characters and learning more about them — for quite a few years. There were many, many attempts to do so. They never really worked. But three years ago, I was on a train, and I got inspired, and I started writing. Soon enough I knew that this was going to be the father’s story. It just took off, after that.

A lot of it also had to do with the fact that people kept telling me to keep going — to tell us what happened to Elio and Oliver. And I would always answer, I don’t know what happened to them. I’m just the author.
GC: Samuel, Elio’s father, was a minor character in Call Me By Your Name. How did focusing on him help shape Find Me?
Aciman: He was a minor character, but a very important character. One of the things I kept doing over the years, each time I attempted to take up the lives of my characters, was to start with Elio — thinking of that voice again.
I found that writing about the father allowed me to edge my way obliquely into Elio’s life — and to meet Elio, and to have Elio now be the one who gives his father the speech [about love], as opposed to having his dad be the one to give him the speech. I like the role reversal. But it had to come at its own pace.
GC: Father-son relationships have been brought to the forefront in this novel, and you explore several different versions. The same goes for romantic relationships between people of different ages, in which one partner is old enough to be the father of the other. Can you discuss the overlap of these themes?
Aciman: Well, I think that people of all ages like people who are younger. That goes without saying. There’s something wonderful, impulsive, determined about younger people in their late 20s and early 30s. But there’s also something very fragile about them.
I think people who are younger sometimes like people who are older, and I find that interesting. Older people are more deliberate, less certain. I like the unevenness, the unusual, because it gives you something to explore.
GC: Readers are already debating the timeline of this novel, and how it fits with Call Me by Your Name. Is Find Me a sequel or is there some overlap?
Aciman: The word sequel is not exactly a word I like. I prefer something inspired from. Find Me picks up not where the novel left, but in the spaces in between — whatever happened between the separation of Elio and Oliver, and later, when Oliver goes to visit him. I was interested in what happened to them in those in-between years. How do you incubate something that happened 15, 10 years before, when you’ve gone on with your life? Because we do go on with our lives, there’s no question.
GC: Many writers are afraid of writing sex scenes, which can so easily turn out so ... well, awful. You don’t seem held back by this fear.
Aciman: If you’ve been honest all along about the emotional life of a character, isn’t it a touch artificial to avoid the sexual part of it? You have to be consistent. If you’ve been very analytical about everything, you have to be analytic about the sex. You can’t change registers because you’re writing about something that most people avoid discussing.
I think we all like sex scenes. And there’s a kind of pleasure in writing a sexual scene. One doesn’t have to be graphic, but there’s a very emotional side to sex, which people don’t know how to write. One has to be candid when writing sex, not graphic. One must do so obliquely. Too frontal a description of the sexual act can easily devolve into porn; too timid, however, and it becomes coy, cagey. One has to suggest the passion, the love, the pleasure without saying it; to arouse feelings that the readers are already nursing and that they suspect they, and not the author, have brought to the scene. 
I like the mild confusion that occurs during sex. Which is why I usually have a scene where somebody has sex, and then two pages later, they evoke the scene, much more explicitly, but after it has occurred. Now it’s in memory.
GC: What are you working on now?
Aciman: I have a book of essays coming out in the fall of next year. There’s also a book that I’ve just finished that is going to Audible — it will be released first as an audio book, and months later, on paper. I’m very excited about that. I’m finishing the edits.
And I might write something about my years in Italy. It’s way overdue — to write about what happened to me when I was in Italy.

Submitted on: OCT 31, 2019

Category: Comparative Literature | Faculty | French | General GC News