The Eight Mountains by Poala Cognetti (My Favorite Novel of Summer so Far)

“We (the Nepalese) believe that at the center of the earth there is a tremendously high mountain, Sumeru. Around Sumeru there are eight mountains and eight seas. This is the world for us.

While he was speaking he drew outside of the wheel a small peak for each spoke, and then a little wave between one peak and the next. Eight mountains and eight seas. Finally, at the center of the wheel, he drew a crown which I thought might represent the summit of Sumeru. He assessed his work for a moment and shook his head, as if to say that this was a drawing that he had made a thousand times but that of late he had begun to lose his touch a little. Be that as it may, he pointed the stick to the center and concluded, “We ask: who has learned most, the one who has been to all eight mountains, or the one who has reached the summit of of Sumeru?”

The Eight Mountains won Italy’s Premio Strega and the French Prix Medicis etranger, which is why I picked it up. But, I stayed for the story within. It is a novel of relationship, and its beauty is tender and unique and special. I loved the two best friends, their relationships to their fathers and one another. I loved the mountains, and the way that the image in the quote above depicts each boy as he grew to be a man.

I don’t have the right words for this wonderful book, except to say that I recommend you read it.

8 thoughts on “The Eight Mountains by Poala Cognetti (My Favorite Novel of Summer so Far)

    1. Did you not finish it because you tired or it, or it was due back at the library? The later often happens to me. If you get the chance, though, you may want to finish it. I found it deceptively simple, in that I keep thinking about it days after finishing it.

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  1. I saw this in France in January and almost picked it up, opting instead to pick up Cognetti’s earlier book Le Garçon Sauvage, which is pretty much a paean to the mountains, and more autobiographical sketch than novel. I think other writers have captured a passion for mountains better (even in Italy – Dino Buzzati’s alpine tales are marvelous), but I did enjoy the book.

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    1. I want to say that again someday, “I saw it in France…”. This is the first book I’ve read by Paolo Cognetti, and I found it descriptive of the mountains, but more so of relationships, particularly that between the main character and his best friend.

      The theme of mountains, and relationships, reminded me of two other books in translation which I liked very much. The first was on this year’s Man Booker International Prize long list: The Flying Mountain by Christoph Ransymr. The second, which I loved, is The Sorrow of Angels by Jon Kalman Stefansson..

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