André Aciman’s novel is an absolute delight. A book that should be savored for its lyrical descriptions that capture not only the languor and warmth of its seaside setting but also the complex, sweet, heart-tugging, and sensual relationship of its protagonists.
Set in the 1980s in the Italian Riviera, in a well-appointed home of a professor whose family has made it a tradition to open their home to academics every summer. This year, the family’s guest is the handsome Oliver, a 24-year-old post doc from Columbia working on his book on Heraclitus. Elio, the precocious 17-year-old son finds himself attracted towards the American stranger. What follows is a tale of adolescent sexual awakening and an unfolding of a romance between the two protagonists that spans decades.
There’s so many aspects of the novel that I could rave about. From his Proustian approach that captures the nuances of the emotions and thoughts of his characters. And where every gesture and every word is analyzed. Every glance and touch are obsessed over. The result is a pitch-perfect evocation of a bittersweet romance between the characters
See, for example:
Today, the pain, the stoking, the thrill of someone new, the promise of so much bliss hovering a fingertip away, the fumbling around people I might misread and don’t want to lose and must second-guess at every turn, the desperate cunning I bring to everyone I want and crave to be wanted by, the screens I put up as though between me and the world there were not just one but layers of rice-paper sliding doors, the urge to scramble and unscramble what was never really coded in the first place—all these started the summer Oliver came into our house. They are embossed on every song that was a hit that summer, in every novel I read during and after his stay, on anything from the smell of rosemary on hot days to the frantic rattle of the cicadas in the afternoon—smells and sounds I’d grown up with and known every year of my life until then but that had suddenly turned on me and acquired an inflection forever colored by the events of that summer.
Or, here, giving us a beautiful and accepting speech made by Elio’s father:
You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. 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. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. 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!
I came across this book because of the film adaptation (check out the trailer below) that received rave reviews in Sundance and I am grateful that I had a chance to read it. It deserves to be included to the canon of great love stories.
By the way, you will never look at a peach the same way again after reading this book.