Paolo Cognetti won the Strega Prize in 2017 with this semi-autobiographical novel set in the mountains of the Val d’Aosta in Northern Italy. Telling the story of Pietro and his parents, who come to live in the mountains every summer, and Pietro’s enduring friendship with Bruno, the only child permanently resident in the mountain village of Grana, this is a work of contrasts and juxtapositions, between the generations, and between those who remain and those who go, between urban and city lives, and between those for whom the mountains are a playground and those for whom they are a place of work and struggle. All the while there is the immutability of the mountain itself, not as a backdrop but rather another character in the novel. Pietro and his parents all relate in a slightly different way to the mountain that surrounds them. While his father tackles the glacier and drives himself to extremes of endurance, his mother, despite a mountaineering youth, refuses to go higher than her native Dolomites, preferring wildflower meadows, the rivers and woods, and village life.

The Eight Mountains was one of my favourite books of 2017. I was soon to relocate to a rural area after living my whole life in towns and cities, and although we don’t have anything like the same terrain here in Galloway, many of the themes continue to resonate now I’ve come back to the book, and after three years spent living in a fairly remote community. In this video produced by Rai for the book’s success in the Strega Prize, Cognetti takes us to the village where the novel is set and speaks of the book as a story of fathers and sons, the friendship between two men who grow up together, the abandonment of a way of life and the freedom of living in a wild place and finding your place in the world.

“The past is downstream, the future upstream, our destiny, whatever it might be, lives in the mountains above our heads.”

The translation by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre won the English Pen Award.

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The Eight Mountains
Title: The Eight Mountains
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