Andres Aciman’s first novel is one that took me away last summer. Away from boredom, from a depressing love life, and the dread of having for the first time in my life, summer college courses. I know what you’re thinking, though reading might not be number one on your to do lists I can assure you it was the best two weeks I spent fantasizing about living and falling in love in the Italian Riviera. Written in the most beautiful prose, the story is told in first person perspective about a boy, named Elio, who at 17 already seems wiser than his age. He spends 6 weeks falling into an uneasy but captivating attraction for a young scholar, Oliver, who is doing his post doctoral research at his parents’ house. Elio is at first apprehensive and sees Oliver as a competitor for attention and romantic interests in the small Italian village. While trying to gain Oliver as a friend, Elio is awakened to the fact that he is actually in a state of desire for the family guest. Although seemingly disturbed by his attraction, Elio knows deep inside he’d rather follow through with his desires than never take a chance. In his struggles, he tries to find a way to open up but notices subtle mixed messages from Oliver that are confusing and threatening all in the same. At times Oliver calls on him to spend time either as his personal guide and tennis partner or accompanying him to town, and at others he puts him down in front of others and creates a rift between him and his friends. His maddening wish to have Oliver come into his room and fulfill a desire that is burning him from the core leaves him staying at home with Oliver just next door, even as his family leaves for the beach for the afternoon. Elio goes out of his way to try to win him over but is frustrated that Oliver seems to be unaffected and uninterested. At times Elio even wishes for his own death or that Oliver would die so as to extinguish a growing desire he knows is wrong. Eventually though, Elio finds the perfect moment to show his affection and expecting the worst, finds that Oliver too has been facing the same conflict. The tension felt by both characters in the next couple of days intensifies as Elio fears complete rejection from Oliver or even disgust, but the story heats up with a passion I’ve yet to feel; one that maybe most of us wish for. Even as they find the ultimate way to realize their affection they know it’s not meant to last and find themselves wishing they had found each other earlier because know they really have just days to part. One last trip to Rome, where Oliver must depart for America, is a profound background for how to both cherish each winding moment but still find a way to let each other part.
I always find that most novels dealing with likewise themes seem to lack a unique sense of purpose and substance. This is one novel which I keep close to my heart and I hope many others choose to do the same. Although it deals with a gay coming of age theme many readers with different preconceptions will find a book, that once finished, will make you look twice at you own life. I encourage you to at least read the Amazon.com reviews and see for yourself, this book is truly a treasure worth reading.