Without Ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti (translated from the Italian by Stash Luczkiw)
Published by HarperOne, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This journal-esque memoir chronicles Cognetti’s voyage in the Himalayas. His intention was never to reach the summit or ‘conquer the mountains’, but to follow the trail laid out in Peter Matthiesen’s The Snow Leopard; to escape the rush of everyday life, and explore the remote landscapes and cultures under increasing threat of erasure from outside sources.
There’s a calming quality to Cognetti’s prose, the translation from Italian having been handled seamlessly. He evokes the wonder and tranquillity of the natural world, and a reverence for the comparatively simple ways of life he encounters during his journey. Though the author never resorts to preaching, there’s a clear and important message to be learned here; that there’s a wellbeing to be found in stripping away contemporary distractions and remaining closer to nature, and that ancient cultures and customs are worth protecting.
Despite the book’s gentle feel, Cognetti doesn’t shy away from depicting the physical and mental demands of mountaineering (an aspect I really liked), while recurring references to Matthiesen’s aforementioned The Snow Leopard mean this also serves as an homage to the comfort and inspiration of a beloved read.
I very much enjoyed the time I spent with the book, though I did feel it came to a rather abrupt end. The overall tone and intention of Cognetti’s writing may have resonated, but I was left wanting for a more concrete moment of epiphany or revelation, considering the book’s claim to be a ‘journey of self-discovery’. Perhaps this was intentional, mirroring the lack of a final destination in Cognetti’s physical journey and thus tying in nicely with the book’s title. From a reader’s perspective, however, the quiet fizzling out felt a little underwhelming.
Nonetheless, this is pleasant little love letter to a remarkable and singular place, well worth checking out if you enjoy unconventional travel memoirs, nature writing, and literary tributes.
Thank you to the publisher for an uncorrected proof via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order a copy of Without Ever Reaching the Summit by clicking here.