Tag Archives: Italy

Review: Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

My Review:
Call me By Your nameThe twenty-four year old university student named Oliver who is one of the two main characters in this intense novel is writing a manuscript about the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus.  I took a Pre-Socratic seminar in graduate school and translated some of Heraclitus’ fragments which, to say the least, are mind boggling.  Even in antiquity he was known as Heraclitus “the obscure.”  Heraclitus could not be a more fitting author with which to compare the emotional turmoil, upheaval and even confusion that both Oliver and Elio share in this book.

Elio is a shy seventeen-year-old who is interested in music and literature.  He spends all of his summers at his parents’ villa on the Italian Riviera; and each summer Elio’s father, a university professor, invites a young scholar to come and live with the family for six weeks as a type of mentorship.  There have been a string of writers and house guests for Elio’s entire life, but this particular summer becomes unforgettable and life changing as soon as Oliver steps out of the cab and greets Elio.

The author is a genius at describing, in beautiful and intense prose, the initial resistance between lovers when the first stages of attraction are felt.  Elio finds that he cannot stop thinking about Oliver, he craves Oliver’s attention and wants Oliver’s approval in all he does.  When Oliver is not around the house and when Oliver is not in a talkative mood then Elio feels like he has had a bad day.  We have all had these experiences where our mood and our happiness are dependent on the small scraps of attention we may or may not receive from the one with whom we are in love.

One of the most significant and symbolic scenes in the book is when, after they play a tennis match together,  Oliver puts his arm around Elio and Elio at first leans into his embrace but then feels embarrassed and shrugs Oliver off.  Throughout the first part of the book Elio and Oliver repeat the scenario of this embrace by coming close to having a physical relationship but then resisting and pulling away from each other.

One of my favorite fragments of Heraclitus is one that is attributed to him by Plato (Cratylus 402A): “Heraclitus, you know, says that everything moves on and that nothing is at rest; and, comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says that you could not step into the same river twice.”  As Elio and Oliver finally confess their feelings to one another and fall into a very intense physical relationship they know that the six weeks at the Italian countryside can never be replicated again.  They meet again at Christmas and several years later when they are older but they can never recapture the physical and emotional intensity of their summer on the Riviera.

The mutability of life, identity, and sexuality are all highlighted in this book through Elio and Oliver’s relationship.  This is one of those books that is very difficult to describe fully and to do justice in a short review but I promise that it will bring out a variety of emotions in every reader.

I first discovered this book on my of my favorite blogs, roughghosts.  Joe has a beautiful review of this book (and many others) so please check out his site as well.

About The Author:
Andre AcimanAndré Aciman was born in Alexandria, Egypt and is an American memoirist, essayist, novelist, and scholar of seventeenth-century literature. He has also written many essays and reviews on Marcel Proust. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Condé Nast Traveler as well as in many volumes of The Best American Essays. Aciman received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University, has taught at Princeton and Bard and is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at The CUNY Graduate Center. He is currently chair of the Ph. D. Program in Comparative Literature and founder and director of The Writers’ Institute at the Graduate Center.

Aciman is the author of the Whiting Award-winning memoir Out of Egypt (1995), an account of his childhood as a Jew growing up in post-colonial Egypt. Aciman has published two other books: False Papers: Essays in Exile and Memory (2001), and a novel Call Me By Your Name (2007), which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and won the Lambda Literary Award for Men’s Fiction (2008). His forthcoming novel Eight White Nights (FSG) will be published on February 14, 2010


Filed under Literature/Fiction

Guest Post: Author Carol M. Cram talks about Medieval Italy


I invited author Carol M. Cram to talk about why she chose to set her historical fiction novel The Towers of Tuscany in Medieval Italy.  Here is her response:

01_The-Towers-of-Tuscany-CoverI have visited Italy several times over the past two decades and was particularly drawn to the medieval towns such as San Gimignano, Montalcino, and Siena. At night when the streets were quiet, I was easily transported back to a time when life was short and harsh and at the same time produced so much wonderful art.

The Italian Renaissance, with its Michelangelo and da Vinci and a host of other artists is considered—and rightly so—as the era that produced some of the world’s most magnificent art. However, I was intrigued by the art that preceded that Renaissance and led to it. In the 14th century, painters were struggling with perspective, experimenting with fresco and tempera (no oil paints yet!), and starting to explore non-religious themes. I wanted to dig deeper into the psyche of a 14th century painter to reveal their passions and their struggles.

I decided to make my painter a woman because I was also intrigued by the fact that, so far as we know, none of the art produced during the first half of the 14th Century when the novel takes place, was produced by a woman. The key phrase here is “so far as we know.” In the 14th Century, painting was very much a family affair. The master who ran a workshop passed his knowledge down to his sons and brothers and nephews. But what if a master had no sons or brothers or nephews? What if he had only a daughter—a bright, precocious child fascinated by the tools of the painter’s trade? I contacted an expert in art of the period, the wonderful Dr. Efrat El-Hanany who later became my historical advisor on the novel, and asked her if it was plausible that a man could teach his daughter how to paint. She thought that yes, the idea was plausible. That’s all I needed to dive in and invent Sofia Barducci—a young, spirited woman who makes a very big mistake.

Unlike most girls of her era, Sofia is allowed to marry a man who she chooses. Unfortunately, she chooses wrong. How many women have made that mistake? Sofia’s plight, although rooted in the prejudices and customs of 14th Century Tuscany, is not so different from the plight of many women all over the world in our own time.  Sofia wants to follow her passion and paint. The world and her own choices conspire against her.

Regarding my research for “The Towers of Tuscany,” I was very fortunate to have a translation of “Il Libro dell’Arte, an amazing handbook for painters written in the late 14th Century by Cennino d’Andrea Cennini. Most of the references to painting techniques come for Cennin’s wonderful book. In it, he advises painters in all aspects of the trade—from grinding pigments to making sizing from goat’s hooves to painting haloes. Cennini acknowledges the need for the painter to have “passion and enthusiasm” for the work. A painter in the 14th Century did not consider himself an “artist” as we would use the word. A painter was a craftsman who served a long apprenticeship to learn the skills of his trade. Painters were also businesspeople who, with their painted panels and frescoes, made important contributions to religious and secular life in the 14th Century.

Thanks so much to Carol for her thoughtful response.  Carol is on tour with her book until January.  Click on the tour banner below to see reviews of her book.

Towers Tour Banner



Filed under Author Interviews, Historical Fiction

Review: For They Have Sown The Wind by Alessandro Perissinotto

I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. It is translated into English from the original Italian novel.

My Review:

For they have sown the windGiacomo Musso finds himself in an Italian prison, accused of having a role in the violent death of his wife.  Giacomo’s lawyer, in order to help prove his client’s innocence, asks Giacomo to write his story down on paper.  The story that he writes while he is incarcerated does not begin just before his wife’s death. Giacomo asks his lawyer for a box of old photographs and through these photos he retraces his marriage all the way back to the first time his met his wife when they were living in Paris.

The first half of the story is the best part as it describes Giacomo as a shy man who gradually wins Shirin’s love.  They live in her apartment in Paris for about a year and then they decide to move back to Giacomo’s small hometown which is high in the mountains in Northern Italy.  Giacomo takes job a as an elementary school teacher in his hometown where he teaches 12 children of all different grades in a one room schoolhouse.

Giacomo and Shirin’s life, however, is completely changed by their decision to live in this small town.  Although they are charmed by the scenery, the history of Giacomo’s ancestral home and the childhood friends who welcome Shirin, racism soon rears its ugly head.  Events soon occur that prove this isolated part of Italy is rife with prejudice against Muslims and although she is a French citizen, Shirin’s Iranian descent makes her the target of racial bigotry.

This book made me think, once again, about marriage and relationships.  At the first sign of trouble, Giacomo and Shirin’s marriage begins to crumble.  They are portrayed by Giacomo in his writing as a happy pair who never argue or even bicker.  But when a serious situation arises that tests their love, they turn on each other and take out their resentment on the very person who should be offering succor.

Shirin’s response to the isolation she suffers as a result of racism is one of  extreme, and even violent, retaliation.  This reminds me of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri which city had a rash of violent protests, burnings and lootings.   When a group of people become victims of racial profiling, bigotry and persecution, the reaction of these victims is oftentimes that of violence and outrage.  But in both the case of Shirin and the looters in Ferguson, is violence really a reaction that will bring about an end to racial tension and bigotry?  I am not saying we can blame these victims for such a reactive response, but in the end what does it really solve?

FOR THEY HAVE SOWN THE WIND is for those readers who like a thought-provoking book about marriage, relationships, racism and small town life.




Filed under Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation