Sunday, July 22, 2018

Paolo Cognetti - The Eight Mountains (Harvill Secker, 2018) ***

Like Henry David Thoreau in "Walden", Italian documentary maker Paolo Cognetti decided to leave his city life and move to the mountains in the north of Italy. The story in "The Eight Mountains" is partly autobiographic, and it describes the friendship of Pietro, a young Milanese boy who goes on holidays every year to the same place in the mountains, with Bruno, the only boy in the remote and half-deserted village. Even if they only meet once a year, their friendship becomes solid, not based on words or common interests, but at some deeper understanding of life. Their worlds could not be more different, including the relationships with their parents, although both boys, as can be expected do not understand the whims and strange character traits of their parents, for Pietro primarily his father, for Bruno his mother.

Efforts for both worlds to meet in a more structural way, and outside of the holidays, fail, as if there is a border that cannot or should not be crossed. Pietro's universe becomes the world, including frequent stays in Nepal, whereas Bruno never actually lives his village. The mutual understanding of both boys and later as young men, is maintained despite the changes in their lives, both personal and professional.

Cognetti writes in a very accessible and balanced way, well integrating memories and reflections in the action, yet he's most convincing when describing nature and the ambiguity of relationships. It's a story about leaving the rat race, and about getting a deeper understanding about the beauty and harshness of nature. It is a little mellow at moments, but somehow that only emphasises the authenticity of the writing.

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