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Book Review: Paolo Cognetti's Le Otto Montagne (The Eight Mountains)

You don't need an elaborate writing style to make a masterpiece. It's a sincere feeling behind the simple words that reaches the reader's heart and fosters vast imagination. The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti is a true ode to the mountains, praising their eternal wisdom and granduity in a certain poetry with no verses and no rhymes.

The winner of the most prestigious Italian books awards - Premio Strega 2017 - The Eight Mountains is one of the most popular Italian books worldwide. It is available in English, though the original Italian language is what actually captivates the reader. Paolo Cognetti's love for the mountains becomes a story as static and hypnotic as probably the mountains themselves, and you hold on to it as to a visual dream trapped on one of the highest peaks.

The Eight Mountains carries multiple stories, though the focus is on two childhood friends Pietro and Bruno. An eleven-year-old Pietro together with his parents comes from Milan to Grana below the Monte Rosa for summer holidays and meets Bruno, the local boy of the same age who herds cows throughout the pastures. Soon they become the best friends, running up and down the mountain slopes, exploring the ruins and wading the stream. They both come from very different family background, Bruno wishing to become a mountaineer and Pietro dreaming about something impalpable and non-specific but they both feel that unbreakable bond inside when two of them are alone in the mountains. Then, after an ungrateful incident the boys are separated and actually meet only after 15 years when Pietro's father dies and leaves him shabby ruins of a mountain cabin high up in the mountains.

"Whatever destiny may be, it resides in the mountains that tower over us," suddenly occurs to Pietro when he's still a boy, and this revelation generalizes the main idea of the novel. Thus this inheritance from the father brings Pietro back into the mountains and supplies him with a second chance to rebuild his friendship with Bruno who in turn volunteers to rebuild the cabin. For Pietro, Bruno is the one who is in the centre of the world, on the highest mountain Sumeru, and always stays there, meanwhile Pietro himself travels around eight mountains and seas in the ordinary world. This is the story of the world conception that he was told in Nepal and which he told to Bruno. However, the key question is not which way is better but who learned in life more - the one who traveled around eight mountains or the other who went straight to the top of the mount Sumeru?

The novel might be called a book of relationships, as the boys' friendship is just one of them. The story also features and contemplates on the complex relationship between Pietro and his father, marital relations of Pietro's mother and father, Pietro's relationship with his mother, Pietro parents' relationship (or it's absence) with their relatives, Bruno's relationship with his father and his relatives, Bruno's relationship with his own family and daughter, and everyone's relationship with mountains, which, despite the narrative, might actually be the main topic.

This love and indescribable attraction to the mountains tie a stubborn, introvert, flat and categorical Bruno with a dreamer-like sensitive Pietro but unfortunately there are mountains in life you cannot come back to.

P.S. Last year the book adaptation written and directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch has won the Prix Du Jury at the 75th Festival de Cannes. But don't watch it if you haven't read the book: the mountain views are stunning but a number of important story threads are lost.


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