Andre Aciman is clearly weighing in on the emotions of a person meeting his lover after a long and protracted gap. “Imagine if you met him again after 20 years,” he asks me to visualise a burning love. Aciman, the author of Call Me By Your Name, is talking about the sequel he is writing to his famous novel, successfully adapted into a Hollywood movie. “I don’t think you forget,” he answers himself. “You don’t abandon anyone if it (love) was powerful when you were young. We age, but we don’t grow up.”
The American author, who has a doctorate in comparative literature and teaches in a New York university, announced to the world in early December that he was writing the sequel. The announcement came in a tweet: “I would actually love a sequel to Call Me By Your Name. In fact I am writing one.” Sitting for an interview at the Jaipur Literature Festival a month later, the literary theory professor was eager to set the context for the new novel his fans worldwide are waiting with bated breath for.
Call Me By Your Name, which Aciman wrote in 2007, tells the story of the intense relationship between Elio and Oliver. Elio is a 17-year-old boy living with his parents in Italy. Oliver is a doctoral student of Elio’s father. Elio falls in love with the older Oliver when he comes visiting Elio’s father to help him in an academic project. In Aciman’s words, his book painted a picture different from a world where every love is doomed. It was about two individuals who are “simply in love with each other and don’t necessarily want to die”. “He (Elio) wants to sleep with him (Oliver). If there is a shame, it is a shame of wanting someone else. The shame of wanting someone else is devastating.”
The sequel will not begin where the book ended. At the end of the novel, a married Oliver meets Elio, 20 years after he left him devastated in love. The sequel will be a visit to the interregnum, about the lives of Elio and Oliver in those two decades. At the Jaipur Literature Festival, Call Me By Your Name fans waited in a longwinding queue at the Diggi Palace lawns for Aciman’s signature on their copies. “They ran out of books,” sighed Aciman, feeling bad for his fans who couldn’t get a copy of the book at the festival shop.
The film, which premiered in 2017 at the Sundance festival in America with Timothee Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver, won its producer and scriptwriter James Ivory an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. “The screenplay was much like the book,” says Aciman. “It was not a difficult screenplay to write.” After Ivory completed the screenplay, it was sent to Aciman. “I told them there was only one problem and you have to fix it,” recalls the author. “They wanted the parents to have the knowledge that Elio and Oliver are having a relationship. I said it was to be a surprise,” he adds.
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In the end, the scriptwriter took Aciman’s advice, leading to the scene where Elio and his father have a heartwarming talk about his relationship with Oliver. That scene led to a different interpretation from the film’s audience though. “People interpreted Elio’s father was gay,” explains Aciman about the father talking of his envy in the love his son found. “They are equally right to have their own interpretation.”
When the film had its world premiere at Sundance festival in January 2017, Aciman was at home, thinking only three people will be there in the audience. “It is very cold in Sundance in January and I didn’t go to the premiere,” he says. “And I thought the film is not going to be successful.” After the screening, Aciman kept receiving messages from the film’s producers. The messages said people are crying and the clapping is not stopping. The film went on to have another screening the same day.
Aciman, however, went to see the film the next month at the Berlin festival. Back in New York, he was invited to a screening of the film where he sat among the audience. “After the film, I was asked to stand up. I continued to sit until my wife and son forced me to stand up. It was a very gratifying moment to be hailed,” he says. Nothing has changed for Aciman after the huge success of the film. “People invite me to dinner and ask if I have time to attend. I know there is hostility in that,” says Aciman, who seldom makes a joke about sex in his literature class.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer