Paolo Malaguti wins the Rigoni Stern Prize

Paolo Malaguti wins the Rigoni Stern Prize
Paolo Malaguti wins the Rigoni Stern Prize
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Paolo Malaguti in a portrait by Caterina Santinello

Paolo Malaguti wins the twelfth edition of the Mario Rigoni Stern Prize for multilingual literature of the Alps with the novel The Moor of the top released last March for Einaudi.

A victory practically announced, not only for the indisputable literary value of the text but above all because Malaguti (already selected in the long list in 2019 with Along the foothills), an affectionate “Rigonian singer” in forms and themes, with this latest effort it is inexpressibly close to the sensitivity of the Asian writer.

The Moro, in fact, somehow remembers that Tönle Bintarn whose story Rigoni Stern tells the story in the novel of the same name (winner of the Bagutta and Campiello in 1979): both fond of the mountain, both unable to break away from it, both disenchanted and yet full of primitive lyricism, they lived the experience of the Great War (the Moor relatively young, Tönle now eighty) and, touching its destructive power, they faced it.

But Malaguti of the great master, unsurpassed narrator of the mountain and of the inner places where it leads us, has above all the authenticity. In a period in which, from Eight mountains by Paolo Cognetti onwards (a book that was sold almost all over the world, in addition to having won the Strega in 2017), many, many have tried their hand at writing “mountain” novels because it essentially became a fashion, Malaguti remains faithful to his literary research, that of a “good literature” that is not foolish to strike, that does not rest on the rhetorical image but, on the contrary, restores the genuineness – often ironic, straightforward, and without too many filters – of a world which paradoxically, in times of mass tourism, is almost inaccessible in its veracity.

But who is the Moor?

Real person named Agostino Faccin (1866-1951) was one of the first refuge conductors but In his novel Malaguti makes it a mirror in flesh and blood of the torments (and joys) of the human soul. This is how he describes it: “In the morning, when he got up to prepare breakfast for the guests [del rifugio]he had noticed how it worked: as long as he was in his long johns on his pallet, with Too nearby, it was he, Moro Frun, born in Agostino Faccin, born in Borso on November 4, 1866. But then he put on the velvet jacket, over the pocket pinned the silver pin with the two crossed ice axes, treaded on his hat and took the carbide lantern he always kept with him when he took people around the Grapa. Then it became something else. He was the Moor of the top, the guardian of the refuge, that gruff and whimsical character who blended so well with the surrounding landscape“.

And how is the Moro?

Il Moro is a man who does not surrender to his vocation, which is to stay in the middle of the peaks, even if he was a tourist guide to the “siori” who in the years of his youth begin to discover the peaks (“There is little to do“Thinks the Moor looking at those people”when one in front of a cow does not think of milk and manure, but of poets that are almost two thousand years old, it means that he belongs to another breed“). Thus the young silent man begins to get busy with words because if it is true, as we read in the novel, that “things don’t need words to be there“, Il Moro”little by little he understood that the most beautiful story, if told badly, is not worth a hag, and the most insipid anecdote, if seasoned properly, makes more of Bertoldo’s adventures“. Malaguti himself reveals himself as a narrator when he writes: “Over time he learned that stories are like cheese: we always start from the same three things, milk, rennet and salt, yet, by measuring the ingredients and aging times differently, the results are endless“.

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To be honest, Malaguti makes several reflections on the power of words, and it is clear that the author believes in the strength of the storytelling, even when he affirms the opposite: “His bride remained for him [il Moro] more important than all those people with whom he had chatted about this and that, and then concluded that perhaps too much importance is given to words, so much so that the most peaceful moments of his life were precisely those winters in which he sometimes happened not to talk to anyone for weeks, sometimes for months“. A reflection of this kind is also suitable in our times, even when the words said have been replaced by the buzz of those shouted on the social message boards but the result is the same – that would need a little silence, that is -, as well as timeless, without time and medicine to cure it, is man’s fear of the passing of time, even more than the war that comes, then as now. Il Moro finds peace only in his mountain: “That’s what that strange and unexpected feeling the mountain had given him was. A freedom such as he had never experienced. Maybe something like this had been in his life from time to time. When he had taken the train home, the soldier finished. Or, backwards, vague memories of childhood games, running on the meadows set on fire by the sunset, endless afternoons hidden in the hay, without the fear of passing time“And yet that inexorable time passes, it is useless to delude oneself that it is not so, but not for her:”[…] The mountain doesn’t give a damn about the passing of years and centuries, because she is stronger than time and men, and she would still be like thisunchanging and serene, when, in a hundred years from now, other youngsters might have raised their glasses in that same place, greeting no less than a new millennium”(It is impossible not to think that the author can refer to himself who, born in 1978, was just over twenty years old at the baptism of the year 2000).

The mountain remains unscathed in its own way even from the war, which crosses it, digs it up, keeps the dead hidden from us, and it doesn’t matter that men change its name (from la Grapa to il Grappa): it is in their eyes that it changes, because it is the eyes of men that change. Malaguti writes: “The mountain is a woman as long as it remains fertile, until its pastures give new grass and new flowers year after year. Up there what had once been his top, his home, [del Moro cioè] grass would never grow from it. It had become what they had sought and wanted from the war on. The mountain, the symbol of the victorious people, the sarcophagus of the warriors who died in fire and iron“.

Life, the parable of Agostino Faccin known as il Moro Frun seems to tell us, is a perpetual change and through this, which is the history of each one and the collective history together, Paolo Malaguti accompanies us with his narration. Il Moro, comments the author “he understood well that, even after studying, words are but fragile shells of reality. Because there is no verb that encompasses two lives spent together that are divided”As if reality, after all, were ineffable.

And, instead, the novelist always knows how to find the word. And luckily.


Stories are like cheese: we always start from the same three things, milk, rennet and salt, yet, by measuring the ingredients and aging times differently, the results are endless.

Paolo Malaguti


The article is in Italian

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