Mario Rigoni Stern

Mario Rigoni Stern

In 2008, one of the greatest mountain writers died. Mario Rigoni Stern spent his life on the Asiago plateau, from where he told the horror of war and the relationship with nature.


“In your life I wish you at least one blackout on a clear night” .


“I am a mountain man but I also love the sea very much; those poor and lonely shores where you can’t hear loudspeakers and music but where the only noise are the waves breaking on the shore and the calls of the seagulls “ .

These words – which demonstrate an enormous  sensitivity towards contemplation and the relationship with the nature that surrounds us – were written by a writer who was a protagonist of the twentieth century: Mario Rigoni Stern .

  • Rigorni Stern’s childhood and youth
  • The war years and personal involvement
  • The career as a writer
  • The civil commitment and the last years of life
  • The most important works



Rigorni Stern’s childhood and youth

Born in Asiago , on the plateau of the Seven Municipalities, on 1 November 1921 to Giovanni Battista Rigoni and Annetta Vescovi, the third of seven brothers and a sister, Mario Rigoni spent his childhood among the shepherds and the mountain people of the plateau . His family, nicknamed “Stern”, traded products from alpine huts, pieces of linen, wool and wooden products from the Altipiano community.

In 1938 he enlisted as a volunteer at the central military mountaineering school of Aosta and later fought as an Alpine on the border with France and then on the Greek-Albanian front . But it is in Russia that Rigoni Stern lived his human experience stronger than him, which will mark his career as a writer.

The war years and personal involvement

From indoctrinated and fervent supporter of the war against Soviet Russia to disillusioned and anti-fascist : the Alpine survived the defeat of the Italian army in Russia (from where about 100,000 soldiers did not return ) and once he returned home he discovered that no newspaper had spoke neither of the incident, nor of the clashes and the dead. On the contrary , the veterans were almost hidden , to prevent any news of the disastrous campaign.

Taken prisoner by the Germans after the signing of the armistice of Cassibile in 1943, he refused to join the Social Republic of Salò di Mussolini and was deported to a concentration campin Hohenstein, East Prussia, now Poland. During his captivity he wrote a diary of his experiences in the war.

After the Liberation, he returned home on foot crossing the Alps at the end of two years of imprisonment, it was May 5, 1945.  He will never travel from  Asiago .

Married in 1946 to an old school friend of his, Anna Maria, Rigoni Stern had three children : Alberico, Giovanni Battista and Ignazio. He worked as a clerk in the tax office of the municipality of Asiago until 1970 and then devoted himself to writing full time.

The career as a writer

His “career” as a writer had already begun in 1953 with the autobiographical book “The sergeant of the snow” . In previous years, Rigoni assisted his friend the sculptor Giovanni Paganin, confined to bed due to an illness, by reading him the memoirs of the Don’s retreat from the front, which he had written during his years of imprisonment.

It is precisely the sculptor who insists that the author submit his manuscript to Elio Vittorini , who was so enthusiastic about it that he became the main supporter of the publication of Rigoni’s first book. Published by Einaudi , it immediately became a great success with critics and audiences.

Ten years later, in 1962, Mario Rigoni Stern published his second book : the collection of short stories entitled “The grouse of the grouse” , edited by Italo Calvino. In this work, as well as in the following “Men, woods and bees” (1980), the writer shows all his love for nature, for the mountains and for his native land. Many years later, another mountain writer, Paolo Cognetti, defined this book as “The birth certificate of our greatest mountain writer” .

Furthermore, at the end of the sixties, he collaborated on the screenplay of “I recuperanti” , a 1970 television film shot by Ermanno Olmion the events of the people of the plateau in the aftermath of the Second World War. For neorealistic

themes , Rigoni Stern has often been associated with Primo Levi and Nuto Revelli . But in his works the influences of Joseph Conrad – whom he discovered as a teenager – of Ernest Hemingway and also Lev Tolstoy are also evident : with his descriptions of the Russian landscape, the boundless steppe, the poverty and simplicity of the peasant world.


The civil commitment and the last years of life

From the 1970s to the 2000s, Mario Rigoni Stern combined his political and civil commitment with an intense editorial activity ,  holding the position of councilor in the municipality of Asiago, animating the campaigns against the subdivision and consumption of land in the countryside of the plateau . More recently, he participated in the drafting of the Territorial Coordination Plan of the Veneto Region , who commented as follows: “I am increasingly convinced that these mountains of ours behind industrialized cities and for traffic made unlivable, will be, with the sea, the salvation of the the daily life of those forced to do so for work “ . In 2003 he was made a Knight of the Grand Cross

by the President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and refuses the nomination of senator for life to remain in his native country. In 2007 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor , but he refused to be hospitalized.

In the last year of his life he let his children accompany him among his most expensive places on the Plateau. The writer died  on June 16, 2008 in his house, built with his own hands. By his own will, the news of his death was given only when a funeral was celebrated .


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