Aciman, a professor specialising in 16th and 17th-century English, French and Italian literature at the City University of New York, has found himself instructing teenagers to check with their parents before they get words from his novel tattooed onto themselves. Young people, who have seen the movie multiple times and then been moved by the book, have contacted him sharing their troubles and experiences and seeking advice.
"I mean it's wonderful when people decide, having read the novel, to come out to their friends, or to make moves that they have wanted to make all their lives and because of the book they feel a certain kind of impulsion to do so, but I don't like to have that much influence on people," Aciman says on the phone from his New York City apartment ahead of his visit to Sydney and Melbourne.
Born and raised in Alexandria and of Turkish, Jewish and Italian origins, Aciman's family fled Egypt to Italy, and later moved to New York.
"I don't want to be out there. That's not the kind of person I am and suddenly I have all these adolescents with teeming hormones writing to me about their experiences .. .I am the last person to give advice. I have no advice to give – I would like some advice."
It is not difficult to see why readers become enamoured with the world of Call Me By Your Name. The love and desire between Elio and Oliver develops over an endlessly lush summer full of long lunches, afternoon naps and lazing by the pool. The novel is full of yearning, capturing the invincibility and fragility of first love, the readings and misreadings that mark all human relationships.
Many have hailed the novel and the film as gay classics for positively depicting homosexual love without the punishment that marks other films including Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Boys Don't Cry (1999). Others, however, have questioned the age difference between the men and Slate published an opinion piece decrying Call Me By Your Name as a "straight-guys-gone-wild narrative" that was more autoerotic than homoerotic.
Aciman, who is married and has three adult sons, describes the relationship between his two characters as "etherealised".
"It is about love," Aciman says. "Forget that it is gay, it is about love."
There have been moments when I thought I was drinking the wine of life but in retrospect it doesn't seem quite like wine.
Aciman was not involved in the production of the film, aside from three days when he visited the set and was recruited to make a cameo appearance as one half of a flamboyantly gay couple who have dinner with Elio's family.
"I knew it was going to be ridiculous so I felt, 'OK, it's your book, you created this part, now you eat it'. I had a great time doing it," Aciman says.
"I didn't want to be the intrusive author type who hangs around and makes everyone nervous, so I decided to basically leave, which I think was probably the best for everyone. I did not pass judgement or pass notes – I did nothing."
While Aciman was initially surprised when he heard of some of Guadagnino's decisions – including the use of the music of indie darling Sufjan Stevens – he has no doubts now that the film superbly captures the love between the two men ("it should have won the Oscar!").
While it ends when Oliver leaves Elio's family to return to the US, Aciman's novel shows the men meeting in the future. Comments Guadagnino made on the Oscar's red carpet triggered a flurry of excitement about the potential for a sequel, but Aciman is more cautious.
"I spoke to the director and he would like to do a sequel but he has quite a few projects in line and so do I. So we are flirting with each other about the sequel but I don't know if we are very serious, either of us, or if anyone involved is that serious about the sequel. We say we are but we don't know, we're not sure."
For Aciman those projects include editing a collection of essays, and finishing a novel about two older men who start relationships with younger people. Another novel, Enigma Variations, was released last year. It follows the character Paul through the great loves and desires of his life. In one chapter, Paul tells friends at a restaurant about a phrase penned by Edith Wharton after she had an affair: "I have drunk the wine of life at last."
The wine of life is something in which Aciman's work is intensely interested – his characters desperately desire it, regret losing it, are terrified to taste it.
So has the author had his own sip?
"Oh God, that's such a cruel question – I don't know. I really don't know. I would like to think I have.
"Although there have been moments when I thought I was drinking the wine of life but in retrospect it doesn't seem quite like wine, it was more like water, but it was very good water. I don't know. I probably have, but it makes a wonderful statement to say the wine of life."
Andre Aciman is a guest of the Sydney Writers Festival which runs April 30-May 6. He will also be in conversation at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, on May 3.
Melanie Kembrey the Spectrum Deputy Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald.
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