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  • ‘Sette volte bosco, sette volte prato’: An interview with Mario Rigoni Stern
  • Felix Siddell

Mario Rigoni Stern was born in Asiago in 1921, into a local family whose connections with the area can be traced back for centuries. This bond with the Altipiano dei Sette Comuni and surrounding mountains, apart from being a formative aspect of his childhood, is a feature which pervades his works, manifesting itself as the documentation of a cultural and ecological system, a way of life which derives from a profound interaction between plants, animals and humans. This aspect of his writing is perhaps most evident in his collections of stories: Il bosco degli urogalli (1962); Uomini, boschi e api (1980); Il libro degli animali (1990) and Arboreto salvatico (1991). In these works, Nature, more than a setting, more than the focus of interest, assumes the role of major protagonist.

Rigoni Stern is also renowned as the author of Il sergente nella neve (1953) which, standing as one of the great personal accounts of combat on the Russian front in the Second World War, is widely studied in Italian schools. While the brutal subject matter of the author’s writings on war, which include Quota Albania (1971) and Ritorno sul Don (1973) might seem, in the first analysis, to sit uneasily with his sensitivity to a culture of gentle ways in harmony with Nature, closer examination reveals that it is from the very profundity of those values that Rigoni Stern’s depiction of war derives its force.

In the novels Storia di Tönle (1978, Premio Campiello) and L’anno della vittoria (1985) the intrusion of war into culture is recorded through the [End Page 231] experiences of characters struggling to survive in a context of changing borders, separation from family and destruction of habitat. His most recent novel, Le stagioni di Giacomo (1995), evokes a particular kind of adaptation of old values to changed circumstances in the form of the salvage of scrap weaponry from the landscape scarred and littered by the First World War. This phenomenon was treated graphically in Ermanno Olmi’s film I recuperanti (1969) for which Rigoni Stern, working with Tullio Kezich, wrote the script. War, therefore, like the gunpowder that the young Mario employed to create special effects in his puppet shows, acts as a catalyst on creative imagination, taking form both in the author’s reflections on the state of the world and his characters’ contemplation of their own predicament. 1 Constantly thwarted by economic and political developments, the desire of ordinary people to maintain a simple lifestyle in the face of difficulty provides the author with his themes to the point that his works could be read as a study of adaptations: reconstruction, migration, recupero.

Rigoni Stern’s writing also demands to be read as a celebration—of a landscape and its inhabitants, of a humanity whose survival is contingent on ecology. On 22 June 1996, at a ceremony at Arabba in the province of Belluno, in recognition of his respect for the flora and fauna of the mountains, Rigoni Stern was awarded the prize for Literature by the Conseil International de la Chasse et de la Conservation du Gibier. Shortly after, on 30 June in nearby Feltre, the author was the focus of another occasion, a launch of the novel, Le stagioni di Giacomo which also included a rare showing of the film, I recuperanti. The following week, after a leisurely stroll elucidating the sights of his beloved Asiago, the author participated in the following interview.

Felix Siddell

Vorrei parlare un po’ della casa e della famiglia che hanno un ruolo molto importante nelle sue opere, nel senso che rappresentano un ideale della stabilità, invece i suoi personaggi, come Tönle per esempio, non riescono mai a trovare la stabilità.

Mario Rigoni Stern

Va bene. Ci sono degli spiriti avventurosi che pure sentono molto il legame alla famiglia, lo dimostra non solo la vita del mio personaggio Tönle. Ma ci sono anche personaggi nella vita reale che lasciano il paese per cercar fortuna o anche per migliorare la loro situazione ma anche per spirito di avventura partono e vanno lontano. Ma là, lontano si portano dentro...

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