Italian author Paolo Cognetti, a mathematics student, turned filmmaker, writes with such warmth about the Dolomites, a mountain range located in north-eastern Italy, they almost feel like a person, in his novel The Eight Mountains (published by Simon & Schuster, 2016). At the centre of the story, is Pietro, who first comes to the Alps as a boy, with his father.
It is there, while staying in a rented cabin during summer holidays, that he befriends Bruno, a boy the same age, who works as farmhand in a nearby village. And while Pietro’s father can’t think about anything else other than scaling the mountains, or roaming the foot-hills, Pietro is not the same. He’d rather stay closer to home, and explore the local village with Bruno.
As someone who has little interest in mountains, let alone climbing them, Cognetti’s writing is surprisingly arresting. But scaling peaks is only a small part of this story, which spans decades, as the boys grow-up, and choose different paths in life. Pietro, who bases himself in the Italian city Milan, spends much time travelling the globe, while Bruno barely leaves the mountains.
The Eight Mountains, a slow-burning coming of age story, is a testament to long standing friendships. The strains they come under, and their staying power. Despite the contrast in their family backgrounds, and the directions their adult lives take, the bond between the two remains. Pietro’s drive and ambition is worlds apart from Bruno’s easy going approach to life.
But at times their story seems to be over shadowed by the mountains surrounding them. The character that is not a person. Through his prose Cognetti eloquently captures the allure of being on their slopes, aiming for the summit, or simply being in the nearby forests. Perhaps some of this essence will feature in the proposed film adaptation of the novel.