View from the French Acad­e­my at the Vil­la Medici, Gia­co­mo Cane­va, Gilman Col­lec­tion, Muse­um Pur­chase, 2005

Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman’s por­tray­al of a first, great­est, and (pos­si­bly) only love, was pub­lished to much acclaim in 2007. The nov­el tells the sto­ry of the rela­tion­ship between Elio, a sev­en­teen-year-old flu­ent in Mozart and Paul Celan, and Oliv­er, the slight­ly old­er clas­sics schol­ar stay­ing with Elio’s fam­i­ly at their home in north­ern Italy. Call Me By Your Name is both a steamy page-turn­er and a lush med­i­ta­tion on mem­o­ry and youth. Peach­es, Herodotus, and puk­ing on the street have nev­er seemed more romantic.

Now, twelve years and one Oscar-win­ning film adap­ta­tion lat­er, Aci­man has writ­ten a sequel — well, as he notes, maybe not a sequel, but a new nov­el inspired by the ear­li­er book. Find Me picks up the­mat­i­cal­ly where Aci­man left off, but dif­fers from its pre­de­ces­sor in both form and sweep. This nov­el is com­prised of four parts, each a dif­fer­ent sto­ry of love or lust fea­tur­ing a char­ac­ter from the ear­li­er book. The chase in these romances is not as pro­longed; lovers rec­og­nize one anoth­er almost instant­ly and make bold pro­nounce­ments and impul­sive com­mit­ments. Despite this imme­di­a­cy, Aciman’s inter­est in our ten­den­cy to won­der what might have been pro­pels these sto­ries, which are filled with poignant dis­cur­sions about regret, rec­ol­lec­tion, and desire.

Rus­sell Janzen: What prompt­ed you to return to Elio and Oliver’s love sto­ry after twelve years?

André Aci­man: I wrote Call Me By Your Name very hasti­ly, and basi­cal­ly felt that it was unfin­ished. I tried writ­ing a sequel many times, and either it didn’t work or there were oth­er things that got in the way, and so I final­ly just threw my hands up in the air — until I real­ized that I liked this sto­ry of Elio and Oliv­er. I trust­ed it, and I want­ed to go back to it. And about three years ago, I start­ed fid­dling around with a sequel again, and even­tu­al­ly it took off.

RJ: Have you ever returned to char­ac­ters before?

AA: No, nev­er. I do end up writ­ing in one par­tic­u­lar voice, or about one par­tic­u­lar per­son­al­i­ty — which is usu­al­ly sim­i­lar to my own, but I throw it into all kinds of sit­u­a­tions. That par­tic­u­lar iden­ti­ty, let’s call it, floats all over the place. So I go back to it, and I think I always will until I stop writ­ing. But this was a unique case in which I want­ed to return to three spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters from an ear­li­er book.

RJ: What was it like to return to the char­ac­ters after see­ing them brought to life by actors in the film?

AA: For a while after see­ing the movie, I couldn’t remem­ber who my char­ac­ters were because they had been super­im­posed by Tim­o­th­ée Cha­la­met and Armie Ham­mer. So it was very dif­fi­cult for me to visu­al­ize them. But in this instance, with the pas­sage of time, I saw dif­fer­ent peo­ple. First of all, Elio and Oliv­er are much old­er, and also I was no longer under the spell of the film.

RJ: And it real­ly did cast a spell.

AA: Well, it did on me, too, to be hon­est. I mean, I thought it was going to be just anoth­er movie made from a nov­el, but it was actu­al­ly quite mov­ing. Even for some­body who knew the sto­ry already!

RJ: Ini­tial­ly, I kept mak­ing com­par­isons between Call Me By Your Name and Find Me, but then I won­dered if that was fair. So before we go ahead: how are the two books con­nect­ed? Is Find Me an exten­sion of Call Me By Your Name? A fol­low-up? Some­thing more sep­a­rate than that?

AA: Well, it’s inspired by Call Me By Your Name. It’s not real­ly a fol­low-up, though yes, it picks up the char­ac­ters years lat­er, and they have matured and changed. If they have a last­ing bond, some­times they lose track of this bond because they don’t always com­mu­ni­cate — but some­thing keeps hov­er­ing in the back of their minds. At some point they real­ize that it’s nev­er going to go away, and that they want to go back to it if they can. So in that respect you can say that that por­tion of the book — which is a very slim por­tion — is a con­tin­u­a­tion of Call Me By Your Name. Oth­er­wise, Find Me is about the same char­ac­ters, who are essen­tial­ly caught drift­ing through life but have a point of anchor­age that they will seek out again.

If they have a last­ing bond, some­times they lose track of this bond because they don’t always com­mu­ni­cate — but some­thing keeps hov­er­ing in the back of their minds.

RJ: It was such a beau­ti­ful choice to start with Samuel, Elio’s father, and Miran­da, this new love in his life. In revis­it­ing these char­ac­ters, what drew you to begin with Samuel and Miran­da meeting?

AA: Samuel’s the eas­i­est char­ac­ter for me to iden­ti­fy with. After all, he’s around my age. I under­stood what his com­pul­sion was, and how he had basi­cal­ly giv­en up on the great­est thing of life — a great love — and now here he is, enter­ing into a rela­tion­ship that he had absolute­ly no plan for and maybe no hope of ever hav­ing again. And he has to decide whether to take it or not.

RJ: Even though there are mov­ing sto­ries of roman­tic love in Find Me, the through line is Elio and Samuel’s con­nec­tion. Did you go into writ­ing the nov­el intend­ing to deep­en that?

AA: Yes. It was a very weird thing — some­times you know where you want to go, but you find your­self dis­tract­ed by the mate­r­i­al in between. I began with a char­ac­ter who was tak­ing a train to meet his son, and who hap­pened to speak to a woman sit­ting next to him with her dog — and sud­den­ly that woman with the dog became more and more com­pelling for me the writer, and for Samuel as well. So I kept push­ing off the meet­ing of Elio and Samuel. And even­tu­al­ly it got pushed back to the very end of Samuel’s tale.

But what I want­ed to cap­ture — because I think it hap­pens to all of us — is that we start off giv­ing advice to those who are much younger than we are: our chil­dren. Even­tu­al­ly, as we mature, guess what? They’re the ones giv­ing us advice. I want­ed to turn the tables on Samuel, to give him a son who is extreme­ly grate­ful for what his father has giv­en him through­out his life, and who is now telling his father some­thing that fathers sel­dom hear from their sons.

RJ: I know you have three sons. Has your rela­tion­ship with your sons had a large impact on these stories?

AA: No, not at all. But I have a very open and frank rela­tion­ship with my sons, as I had with my father, who was an extreme­ly frank and can­did man. That part is there in the novel.

RJ: You’ve writ­ten a lot about time in both of these nov­els, and I’ve noticed you do this kind of loop-de-loop where the sto­ry moves for­ward and then it loops back ever so slight­ly. Could you describe how you thought about time in this book in particular?

AA: I think this is part­ly a ques­tion about time, and part­ly a ques­tion about craft. Time itself always moves for­ward. But I’m also always inter­est­ed in mem­o­ry, and in the par­tic­u­lar dimen­sion of time that could be called the con­di­tion­al mood. It’s not the present tense or even the past or the future tense. It’s the should-have-might-haved­i­men­sion that we live with- — a might-have-been uni­verse, or fan­ta­sy — which under­pins our entire life trajectory.

But if you’re speak­ing of craft: I remem­ber doing this when I was writ­ing Call Me By Your Name, too. You begin to describe a cer­tain act, but you leave some of the details out. And then three, four, five pages lat­er, the char­ac­ter remem­bers what hap­pened at that ear­li­er moment and pro­vides the read­er with fur­ther details, details that were omit­ted from the first telling. And I love this — you called it loop­ing back, which is exact­ly what it is. A way of con­tin­u­ing a nar­ra­tive as if what has just been said needs to be told once more. This is also exact­ly what hap­pens when you meet some­one again after five years, ten years, twen­ty years. You are con­stant­ly return­ing to some­thing you’ve already returned to.

RJ: Right before read­ing Find Me, I read an essay you wrote about W. G. Sebald titled The Life Unlived.” In the essay, you con­nect this idea of the might-have-been to Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and the Holo­caust. Though it’s not a huge part of Call Me By Your Name or Find Me, Jew­ish­ness does feel essen­tial to your char­ac­ters. Is there some­thing about this idea of the might-have-been that ties into their Jew­ish iden­ti­ty in particular?

AA: Hmm. That’s a good ques­tion. For Jews, there is a sense that you are con­stant­ly return­ing to the past, not because you are afraid of the present or because you don’t trust the future — it’s more that the past is always with us. We rehearse the past time and again, and pass the mem­o­ries on to oth­ers, so that not only the beau­ty of the past is remem­bered, but also the scars that came with it. It’s not just that we evoke the past, but also that we evoke ree­vo­ca­tions of the past — what I call remem­o­ra­tion.” And you might say that this is a Jew­ish trait. Or, let’s say, Jews have been the most vocal prac­ti­tion­ers of this spe­cif­ic trait.

RJ: In the sec­ond sec­tion of the book, Elio begins a rela­tion­ship with an old­er man, Michel, who shares with him a hand­writ­ten piece of music — a caden­za — giv­en to his father by a Jew­ish pianist dur­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion of France. Both this dis­cov­ery and the caden­za itself involve revis­it­ing dif­fer­ent points in the past. This ties into the idea of remem­o­ra­tion,” too, right?

AA: Yes, because the caden­za wasn’t inspired by just one com­pos­er or piece of music; it con­tains many pieces jum­bled togeth­er, and each one wants to have its say: the Beethoven, the Mozart, the Kol Nidre, and so on, each in a way evok­ing and remem­o­rat­ing the oth­er. They are each ask­ing to be giv­en their place.

But I think this kind of auto­mat­ic return to the past is some­thing I do all the time — both in my life, which I don’t like to talk about much, but also, espe­cial­ly, in my writ­ing, where time is a very impor­tant fac­tor, because it tells us how close we are to that moment when we’ll have no more time. That’s what the obses­sion with time is all about. It’s not about youth and ado­les­cence; it’s about how close we are to death.

That’s what the obses­sion with time is all about. It’s not about youth and ado­les­cence; it’s about how close we are to death.

RJ: I noticed how you use, and don’t use, names in Call Me By Your Name and Find Me. They seem to be revealed — or not — in very inten­tion­al ways. Like we nev­er know what Samuel’s child­hood nick­name is even though he reveals it to Miranda.

AA: No; you nev­er know. He doesn’t tell you.

RJ: At one point in Find Me, Elio says, I told him my name,” but you don’t actu­al­ly tell his name to the read­er right away. Is there a spe­cif­ic pow­er or inti­ma­cy in using someone’s name in a relationship?

AA: I have a par­tic­u­lar hes­i­tan­cy about giv­ing out a character’s name, par­tic­u­lar­ly that of the pro­tag­o­nist. I don’t divulge a name too quick­ly or open­ly. It’s a very pri­vate thing. It’s part of one’s iden­ti­ty. In Call Me By Your Name, the read­er doesn’t find out Elio’s name until quite late in the sto­ry. And if you look at Proust, for exam­ple, it is only toward the very end of In Search of Lost Time that you find out that the narrator’s name is Mar­cel. Through­out the whole book, which is prob­a­bly the most pri­vate nov­el ever writ­ten, you don’t even know his name!

You’re giv­ing away a great deal when you give away a name. And when you want some­body to call you by their own name, you’re basi­cal­ly open­ing all the gates, all the doors, all the win­dows — every­thing is open. You are vulnerable.

You have no idea the num­ber of let­ters I get where peo­ple tell me, We called each oth­er by each other’s names. Wow! It was a very pow­er­ful moment.”

RJ: I imag­ine your nov­els often make peo­ple want to open up to you.

AA: Yes, they do. It’s a plea­sure to have that hap­pen because it is exact­ly what Call Me By Your Name is, in a way, ask­ing peo­ple to do: Now that you’ve read me, tell me about you.