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Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
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A-Eight White NightsBorn in Alexandria, Egypt, to a French-speaking family, André Aciman is a writer and a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York. His memoir, Out of Egypt (1994), won the Whiting Writer's Award, and his debut novel, Call Me by Your Name ( 4 of 5 Stars May/June 2007), received wide critical acclaim.

The Story: Invited to a ritzy Christmas party on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the unnamed young narrator stands forlorn by his host's gaily decorated tree when a beautiful woman approaches him, holds out her hand, and announces, "I am Clara." From that moment, he is hopelessly smitten. Over the course of the next week, they meet nightly at an Eric Rohmer film festival, quote favorite poems, invent a secret language, and even take a day trip up the Hudson River. But the young man, plagued by self-doubt, becomes anxiously fixated on Clara. As he alternately longs for her and rebuffs her while he feverishly analyzes their every interaction, his trepidation threatens to stifle their budding romance.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 360 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374228422

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"What follows is a mating dance that will either entrance or repel you--a collision of two eccentric souls that grows with mesmerizing intensity. This is a richly intellectual novel that will resemble nothing you've ever encountered." Marie Arana

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is a fascinating, sometimes infuriating duet the couple dances, the recounting of which often gets mired in the over-the-top, narcissistic replaying of events and conversations. ... But Aciman charts a vividly insightful profile of the psychology of modern-day courtship, and for anyone who's ever smarted from the sharp dreamlike unreality of those obsessive early stages of young love, it's a blistering quick trip down the rabbit hole." Karen Campbell

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"Late in the novel, [the narrator's] and Clara's attempts to outwit each other with clever phrases begin to wear thin: Clara's cut-up comments in public make her seem adolescent rather than endearingly eccentric, and [the narrator's] overwrought moments have indeed distended time, toward slackness." Art Winslow

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Richly elaborated as some of them are, [the narrator's imagined scenes, conversations, and intimacies] give the book a claustrophobic quality; eventually, we may feel reluctant at having the action blurred so that we can be conducted indoors for another bout of churning introspection. " Richard Eder

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he overlay of Proustian nostalgia onto modern New York can also feel mannered and artificial--a substitute for some more organic voice that Aciman never quite found. ... The world of this novel is detached from reality, creating a vacuum around Oskar and Clara that gradually saps their story of life." Jennifer Egan

Critical Summary

Aciman's mesmerizing and, at times, maddening pas de deux plunges readers into the dizzying early stages of a new relationship, with mixed results. Most critics appreciated Aciman's nods to various novelists, poets, and composers--particularly Proust and Dostoevsky--but a few found the continuous stream of clever references belabored and affected. Aciman's decision to disengage his characters from the more humdrum realities of 21st-century life (such as unemployment, the economy, and the war in Afghanistan) left them strangely uprooted and diminished, and all but the Washington Post eventually grew tired of the narrator's perpetual interior monologues. However, Aciman's acute psychological insights and poetic language made up for many of these complaints: Eight White Nights is a perceptive, if somewhat flawed, portrayal of an unusual romance.