Interview: André Aciman
by Jessica Treadway
The First Day
This morning, the person in the car ahead of me at the drive-thru bought me my coffee.
When I rolled up to the window, the cashier said, “Already taken care of,” and pointed at the Civic turning out of the lot. “You want a donut or a bagel or something too? She gave me her card and said to put on whatever.”
I was flustered, I admit; it was so unexpected. I said just the coffee would be fine, and then I kept thanking her, as if she was the one who’d made the gesture. Pulling out of the lot myself, I realized that I was supposed to have given my card to the cashier and paid for the person behind me. But by then it was too late. Instead of feeling grateful for what I knew was the Civic lady’s “random act of kindness,” I felt guilty.
Why do these things keep happening to me? I’m aware that this is something people do—paying it forward, it’s called. It isn’t because I’m unwilling that I don’t do my part. I just somehow never manage to catch on or catch up in time, and then I feel bad.
On the other hand, these things strike me as silly and kind of dumb. This business of paying it forward and committing random kind acts. I don’t know, I’m suspicious of it. It seems like a recipe for feeling good about yourself without really having to do much of anything. Another gimmick to post about. Just leave me out of it!
I have—I had—the most boring job on the planet, but I tried not to let it get me down. Well, maybe not the most boring. I dated an older guy once who’d spent his teenage summers lying on his stomach in the back of a tractor, reaching down to pick cucumbers as the truck drove through the field. Two hours going one way, then two hours down a different row in the other direction. Then lunch, then another round to make for an eight-hour shift. There were a dozen kids doing the same thing all around him on the flatbed, picking up cukes and tossing them into buckets. When they came upon bad ones, they threw them at each other—not hard, not to hurt, but just for something to do that wasn’t the job. When I heard this story, I thought, Damn. I would never have that in me. But the guy I dated talked about it with cheer, and even said it had been fun sometimes. “We were kids,” he reminded me. “It was before cell phones and TikTok. ‘Bored’ wasn’t a thing.” We broke up soon after that, probably because I knew he was such a better person than me.
André Aciman has been regarded by many as a master of exploring desire and its many layers, complexities, and versions upon itself. He rose to prominence in 1994 through an exceptional memoir entitled Out of Egypt. It is the story of his family's existence within, and subsequent exile from, Alexandria in the first half of the 20th century. Relatively quiet for over a decade after Out of Egypt was published, Aciman returned in 2007 with a classic novel that has defined his career and created a sanctuary of serenity for its many readers. That novel is Call Me by Your Name: the story of two young men who come to desire each other in the heat of the summer of 1983 while residing in a Italian countryside home. Call Me by Your Name was then adapted into film in 2017, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring the likes of Timothée Chalamet, and soon thereafter became Oscar-nominated. Since its publication, Aciman has written four novels and two anthologies of essays.
In September 2023, Mount Hope co-managing editor Ben Harvey traveled to André Aciman’s high-rise Manhattan apartment to inquire upon the meaning of his work, his craft, and his ideas. Below are questions on answers, on questions themselves, and on the essence of human emotions. As eloquent as is his work, he speaks just as eloquently; this interview is but an additional, small fragment to the bibliography of Aciman’s profound, expressive, and wondrous voice.