André Aciman, author of the novel “Call Me By Your Name,” spoke to more than 400 people in Rackham Auditorium on Saturday night. Aciman’s new novel “Finding Me,” is the sequel to “Call My By Your Name,” which was adapted into an award-winning film in 2017. The event, sponsored and hosted by Literati Bookstore, included a Q&A and book signing following a discussion with Rackham Merit Fellow and writer Zahir Janmohamed.
Janmohamed started off the discussion by inquiring about Aciman’s memoir “Out of Egypt.” Aciman had to dig into his past in order to write that novel, he said. Aciman said humor helped him write about painful memories in “Out of Egypt.”
“Because there were parts that were so horrible and painful, I had to find a way of working around those painful moments,” Aciman said. “Usually, I did that by finding out or digging out some disclosed humor, because I think humor is a way in which you can communicate things that are very painful. Some memories are so painful that I had to skip over them and avoid writing them. Others I’ve basically written through humor.”
While discussing his writing process in his memoir, Aciman compared writing about the past to going into an old attic from one’s childhood.
“This is the best thing that could happen. The act of writing is like going into an old attic that didn’t belong to you and finding things there that you should have known were going to be there,” Aciman said. “They have not been touched in 30-40 years and you realize that, as you write, you’re digging up things that you have not really forgotten, but you hadn’t paid attention to them. Suddenly, the necessity of creating a chronicle on whatever it is that you want makes these things come to the forefront.”
Going into the writing process of “Call Me By Your Name,” Aciman clarified many questions that readers had about his novel. One major curiosity was about the lack of the word “love” in his novels. Aciman said he intentionally kept out the word because it would not have had the same effect that describing love had.
“I stress the inflections of desire, of wanting, of despair, and all those other feelings that come with love. You want to name all the stations of love, you don’t need to mention the word love,” Aciman said. “If you mention the word love, it’s because you don’t have the courage to examine all the tangents that touch on love, and those are the ones that make it more interesting to write.”
Dentistry student Sarah Bettag said she enjoyed hearing Aciman talk about his exclusion of the word love in the novel.
“I liked when he was talking about love. At first glance, or a first read, I guess, looking at “Call Me By Your Name,” it’s a book about a love story, but he was talking about how the word ‘love’ is never mentioned in the book,” Bettag said. “It’s all about how the characters feel, their inner thoughts, and how they express their love and think about it. When you say that you love someone, it closes the story. Everyone has their own perception about what love is, but when you’re trying to show what love is, it’s much more meaningful.”
Aciman said he did not give the main characters in “Call Me By Your Name” vivid descriptions in order to give his readers visual freedom in the story and because the characters had varied identities. Aciman said multiple identities often contradict each other.
“I believe that our identities are fundamentally paradoxical. We have many, many layers to us, and some of those layers do not talk to the others,” Aciman said. “You have a part of you that doesn’t like the other part, but you are both of them.”
LSA junior Jennifer Moreno said she enjoyed listening to Aciman speak about using several identities in his writing.
“I’m not a writer myself. I read one of his books, and I thought it was really interesting how he went in depth on things I didn’t see or thought about while I was reading it,” Morano said. “For example, explanations on the passages of several identities or he doesn’t really describe some characters. It all just made sense to me, and it gave me a whole different perspective on (the book).”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Janmohamed was Egyptian.