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‘The Gentleman from Peru’ by André Aciman

I inhaled this short novel in a single sitting. A group of young American tourists are staying at a hotel on the Amalfi coast as a result of their luxury yacht breaking down. They meet a mysterious gentleman from Peru, and we’re sucked into a beguiling tale about missed connections, unfulfilled potential, lost opportunities, how we can’t escape our past, and—most of all—the tenacity of love.

It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the book. I’ve previously said that no-one can write ‘longing’ quite like Aciman, and he proves that here by taking it to an extreme. The book evokes the Amalfi coast as brilliantly as Aciman’s previous books have evoked their sun-drenched locations. This book has a fair slice of allegorical fantasy to it, but is still firmly grounded in love and philosophy.

I really enjoyed this: reading it was like being taken on an Italian holiday for a couple of hours. It was transporting, delightful, insightful, and emotional. It was great.

Here are some lines I highlighted:

‘Sometimes the best things couldn’t be simpler: the scent of lemon, a few bars from a Beethoven quartet, the shiny broad shoulder of a woman in a bathing suit resting on a beach towel, a seascape by Dufy, or just the smile on someone’s face you love.’

‘Can we add Caol Ila from Scotland to the list?’

What neither realized was that all their bile and venom and their contempt for each other was precisely what allowed instant intimacy to spread between them without their sensing, much less suspecting, that it had already happened.

For this is what life is: a waiting room. But feel for the dead, who take what they’ve waited for to the underworld and continue waiting to come back to earth to be made to live again and wait some more. So, better one hour spent doing things we’ll regret having done than a lifetime waiting for heaven to touch our lives.

We may no longer be the person we once were, but what if this person did not necessarily die but continued his life in the shadowland of our own, so that you could say that our life is filled with shadow-selves who continue to tag along and to beckon us in all directions even as we live our own lives – all these selves clamouring to have their say, their time, their life, if only we listened and gave in to them!

The point is we all go back. We spend more time than we know trying to go back. We call it fantasizing, we call it dreaming, we give it all manner of names. But we’re all crawling back, each in his or her own way. Very few of us know the way, most never find the door, much less the key to the door. We’re just groping in the dark. Some of us may even feel we’re not from planet Earth but have come down from elsewhere and are all pretending to be normal earthlings. And yet not one of us is. to be We might as well come from Mars or, as happens my case, from a very distant place, or planet, called Peru, which may no longer even exist for me. Some know their way back and some won’t ever know.

This post was filed under: What I've Been Reading, .

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