The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti (transl. Simon Carnell and Erica Segre): Enduring friendship

Cover imageI wrote a post about friendship a little while ago, part of my Five Books I’ve Read series, beginning it by saying how few novels there seemed to be about friendship, and fewer still about male friendship, at least in my reading experience. Paolo Cognetti’s The Eight Mountains offers a corrective to that. At its heart is the friendship between two men who meet as boys when they’re eleven years old: one who has never set foot outside the mountains in which he was born, the other a city boy from Milan whose father yearns for a return to his own mountain roots.

The Guasti family first visit the mountain hamlet of Grana in the summer of 1984. Exacting and taciturn, Pietro’s father is determined to pass on his love of the mountains to his son but seemingly unable to communicate it. His mother sets about making the little rundown house homely, quickly becoming acquainted with the family to whom it belongs. It’s at her urging that Pietro talks to Bruno, the son of a local stonemason who no longer lives with him. Over the years Pietro and Bruno become firm friends. Eventually, as teenagers do, Pietro finds reasons to spend his summers in Milan. When his father dies, Pietro is in his early thirties, struggling to make a living as a documentary maker. Gianni has left him a small patch of land in the mountains on which to build a house. Reluctantly, Pietro takes himself off to Grana where Bruno offers to help. Over that summer, their boyhood friendship is renewed and Pietro comes to understand his father in the way that Bruno always has. Over the next decade, each will live their lives as mountain men in very different ways: Bruno as a farmer, taking care of his beloved cows; Pietro pursuing a career which takes him to Nepal. Both will remain the lynchpin of each other’s lives.

Hard not to gush about this novel, not least because its beautiful descriptions took me back both to alpine holidays and to Nepal whose mountains were the first I properly walked in. Cognetti writes evocatively of the landscape and how deeply Pietro’s father and Bruno are rooted in it –  one torn from it by circumstance, the other determined to pursue the old ways despite great personal cost

In its woods that fire was still ablaze: on the flanks of the mountain the gold and bronze flames of the larches were lit against the dark green of the pines, and raising your eyes to the sky warmed the soul

There’s a quiet poignancy about Cognetti’s writing, both in its depiction of Pietro’s relationship with his father, a man made angry by city life, and in its portrayal of the enduring bond between two men who are very different from each other, the one unable to help the other. It’s a beautiful novel, a testament to friendship and a loving tribute to a challenging but gorgeous landscape.

17 thoughts on “The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti (transl. Simon Carnell and Erica Segre): Enduring friendship”

  1. This sounds absolutely incredible, what a wonderful review. I am off to get myself a copy of soul food in book form. Thanks Susan!

  2. Great to see you writing about this wonderful book. I read it in Italian and it’s a masterpiece; your description conveys the impression it gave me, so it seems the translation must be a good one. So beautiful a thing.

    1. So pleased to hear that it’s a faithful as well as beautiful translation, Christine. Quite a feat given that their were two translators involved. I’m not sure how that works.

  3. You do make this appealing …. dare I add to my wishlist??? I’ve been struggling to think of books about friendship of the male variety and came up blank.

  4. This sounds really lovely Susan. That quote is beautiful, very much the style of writing I enjoy, and the sense of quiet poignancy is very appealing. Nice find.

    On the subject of novels about male friendship, a recent one that springs to mind is The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. I can’t recall if it was in your earlier post, but if not it might be worth a look. A member of my book group chose it for us last year, and whilst it wasn’t entirely convincing — several of us felt the final third lacked a degree of credibility — the opening section depicting the friendship between two young boys was very affecting.

    1. I think you’d like this, Jacqui. The writing is so evocative. Thanks for the Tremain tip. I feel I should write a five books on male freindship post to balance things out.

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.