The book is a bildungsroman – coming-of-age novel – with a traditional structure and first person narrative. Piero tells about his growth in a pithy and neat style. The setting is determined. The time is that of a life, two families and two friends; the location is between Milan and Grana – a little country in the Apls in Italy, and later around Asia especially in Nepal. Cognetti’s clear writing is able to evoke subtleties and the magic atmosphere of the mountain, that is presented as a kind of Sherpa able to reveal life’s tricks and wonders.
The mountain is hardly just a geographical location, it is rather a space for spiritual and emotional contrast leading to evolutions. On the on side it is expression of physical strength, individualism and wanderlust, on the other side it is manifestation of inner attitudes, the importance of sharing and settle down.
The loner Piero, a boy coming from the city and Bruno, a boy born and raised in the little country of Grana, become friends and later they build a house in the mountains.That moment is fundamental for them to come to know the infinite variety of life possibilities and their respective and different choices: family for Bruno and travelling for Pietro. At first Pietro do not realise the importance of that shared event, but during his journey in Nepal he will get there by listening to a bearer of hens telling the story of the Eight Mountain.
In Nepal they say that the world is a wheel with eight spokes. At its centre there is a very high mountain, the Mount Sumeru, and around it there are eight mountains. One may wonder whether the person going around the eight mountains or the person succeeding in ascending the summit of Sumeru is the one who will learn more.
– So you would be the one who goes around the eight mountains, and I the one who climbs the Sumero Mountain? – he asked me at last.
– And who of the two is the one doing something good in his life?
– You are, – I said. I was not just trying to encourage him, but I did believe what I had just said. And I think he knew it too.
The mountain makes possible the friendship between them: between two hearts desiring opposite worlds. They house they built together is their Mount Sumero: where individualism and need for sharing live side by side under the same roof.
Cognetti writes a beautiful novel able to move: he describes with candour and neat realism the never-ending human quest to reach spiritual and emotional consistency. Achievements, regrets and all the nuances of life are represented by the image of the mountain, which is treated in this book as an autonomous character.
Toward the end of the novel regrets seem like prevailing and one may get the feeling of having climbed a mountain only to reach a wall. However, reflecting on the sourness of human condition limits is a way to appreciate the irreversibility of the past as one of the key aspects of its value.