Book Review: Call Me by Your Name (2007)


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Call Me by Your Name: A Novel

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.

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Book: Notes from a Small Island

51DpFru3htL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Just finished reading Bill Bryon’s book on his travels around England. Similar to his other travel writings, this book is filled to the brim with insightful observations of the local culture-its endearing quirks and idiosyncracies.

Here are a couple of snippets from Bryson’s adventure in Great Britain:

I have often been struck in Britain by this sort of thing – by how mysteriously well-educated people from unprivileged backgrounds so often are, how the most unlikely people will tell you plant names in Latin or turn out to be experts on the politics of ancient Thrace or irrigation techniques at Glanum. This is a country, after all, where the grand final of a programme like Mastermind is frequently won by cab drivers and footplatemen. I have never been able to decide whether that is deeply impressive or just appalling -whether this is a country where engine drivers know about Tintoretto and Leibniz or a country where people who know about Tintoretto and Leibniz end up driving engines. All I know is that it exists more here than anywhere else.

Or, this one-which isn’t exactly of England but captures the sometimes snarky tone of Bryson that gives his books its characteristic humor:

Finally, I happened on a hilly street with a few modest eateries and plunged randomly into a Chinese restaurant. I can’t say why exactly, but Chinese restaurants make me oddly uneasy, particularly when I am dining alone. I always feel that the waitress is saying: ‘One beef satay and fried rice for the imperialist dog at table five.’ And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years, haven’t yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?

For fans of travel writing or for those who are interested in the culture of England, Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island is a worthy addition to your library.

Book Review: Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett

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Rating: A

Set in an unnamed South American country, a party is thrown in honor of a visiting Japanese tycoon goes awry when a small guerilla band, intending to take the president as hostage, breaks in. Unfortunately, the president has opted not to attend in favor of watching his favorite soap opera resulting in the taking of the entire party as hostage.

Loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (or Lima crisis) of 1996–1997, the novel portrays at what can happen when people with no common language and from widely different backgrounds find themselves having to live with each other as  negotiation drags on.

Among the hostages are Mr. Hosokawa, the Japanese businessman and opera enthusiast; his translator, Gen; Roxanne Cross, a celebrated opera singer; and Reuben Iglesias, the vice president and other dignitaries and guest. And as the negotiations with the government drags on with weeks turning into months and drawn together by the appreciation of music and opera, unlikely relationships begin to grow between the hostages and their captors.

A subtle, lyrical and beautiful meditation on how friendships and love can be found in the unlikeliest places.