Review: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

There is nothing more beautiful than sorrow, than sadness, than grief. There’s something more touching in the tears that fall because one is mourning, as compared to the tears that well up when one is overjoyed. I’ve always believed this. Grief is a much stronger emotion than happiness, and I feel that is so because of the almost obsessive nature of grief – the way it clings to you, follows you around, peeks from around the corner when happiness is paying you a visit. Of course, it also may be because I’m someone whose wounds have not been healed by time, who looks at sadness and anticipates it when I’m laughing in the kitchen while teasing my brother about his non-existent girlfriend with my family. 

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For a very long time, I didn’t read read. Oh, I read those boring reports, those mind-numbing textbooks, and those god-forsaken question papers, but I hadn’t read a book that touched me, that made me feel alive, that made me feel whole and me for so long that I’d almost given up on reading. But finally, I finished Call Me By Your Name. 

A fair warning to  those who expect a standard book review with a pretty little summary and a few quotes thrown in. You won’t be getting that here. In my humble (and often misguided) opinion, book reviews have to be what books are about – the way they make you feel. I’m not going to stick to the textbook definition because that’s not who I am, it’s something I thoroughly dislike, and you know you can get that kind of a review with a few dainty taps on your keypad.

The book is something that I don’t think a lot of people would like. It has depths that most people spend their lives avoiding and it has vivid descriptions of feelings and emotions that most people try to forget because they know they can’t relive those again. The words trip and stumble and run and climb over each other as they try and get as close to you as possible, almost choking you with their breathlessness when they come close. Perhaps the reason why I fell in love with the book was because of its haphazardness – there’s a lot of leaping, jumping and skipping over and around that happens which leaves you confused. And I like that haphazardness because that’s how thoughts work, that’s how life works. It comes and goes in a blur of colors and emotions, smacking you in the face with your own sobs that you never realized were leaving your body, sobs that echo the moments that had once lifted you, the ones that have now left you. 

The best part of the book was how much it made me feel like me. Insecurity has been a huge part of my life, and continues to be, and I’m not mentioning this here to convene a pity-party complete with sympathy sweets and dense drinks. I’m mentioning this because there’s very few things in the world that make me feel okay for me to be myself, and this book is one of those. Almost every aspect of it reminds me of me and takes me by the hand and tells me it’s okay. The book is somehow alive and detached at the same time. The events are narrated with this inhumane concoction of mindfulness and other-worldliness that leave you breathless and somehow sane at the same time. It’s almost oxymoronic- the way you feel as if the author is the one who’s in it, playing his part and yet it’s also the author who’s floating around in space at the exact same time, narrating his voice-over. It’s like the author is in two places at once – not just in person, but also in time. He’s 17 and 40 at the same time- reliving his memories while also narrating them after having thought about them for so long. 

The book is unabashedly itself. It doesn’t mince words, it doesn’t aim to be pretty, it doesn’t seek validation, neither is it trying to be simple nor neat. It just wants to be itself – every word, every letter, every comma, every space. The words often can’t stop themselves from spilling out all over the page, delaying the appearance of the period just because they feel that they aren’t enough. There’s nothing silent about it, there’s nothing fake about it. It’s real, in the way that all of us are.    

It is, of course, a gay romance – a pioneer of the genre – but what I admired the most was how the book seemed to shrug its shoulders and say, “So what if I’m a gay romance. So what? You read your straight romances without calling them straight romances and call them just ‘romances.’ Why call me a gay romance? Why can’t I just be a romance?”

The harsh reality that most of the homosexual romantic encounters face in today’s world has been portrayed skillfully throughout the book. Please do not, even for a moment, think that I am down-playing its achievement as an icon of the LGBTQIA+ community, I’m not. I whole-heartedly stand with the community and my heart is always with them. It is a ground-breaking piece of work, not just for LGBTQIA+ literature, but for literature in general. 

~Rajlakshmi Chavan


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