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Mario Casella
Il peso delle ombre
Racconti veri o false storie?
ISBN 978-88-97308-41-6
192 pages, € 18.00

Mario Casella
The burden of shadows
Between true stories and false tales

Recommended book of the Gambrinus “Giuseppe Mazzotti” prize 2018 (36th edition).

“With his latest book, ‘The burden of shadows’, Mario Casella has literally overthrown the ideal of mountaineering” (excerpt from the award ceremony of the SAT Awards, Section on culture – Trento, May 4th 2018).

Recommended book for the 2018 ITAS Awards.
“A novel that is bound to become a landmark in mountaineering literature” (excerpt from the nomination to the 2018 ITAS Awards for the best book about mountaineering – Trento).

Winner (2nd) of the Leggimontagna2018 literary prize.
“In his well-documented work, this talented author has delved into a matter that is seldom grasped properly: the matter of lies; specifically, lies that are told about others, but also to oneself, within a circle that is usually associated with rectitude – that of mountaineering. (…) Downright unjudgmental, Casella’s book stands out for its scientific approach and rigid factuality” (excerpt from the ceremony speech delivered by the 2018 Leggimontagna Awards jury).

Debate can be huge, human beings are always tiny. “The burden of shadows” confirms this statement as the pages roll by. Mario Casella, a skilled mountaineer and journalist to boot, carried the necessary burden of this awareness as he explored the painfully grotesque theme of lying in his milieu. His scope was not just to pick out the difference between liars and defamers, but to wonder about their unfathomable schemes and motives, while giving voice to the tragedy of the slandered.

This book, at once engaging and entertaining, makes us delve into the most intimate motives that push a person towards lying. The reader is left to wonder about the sometimes life-changing consequences of calumny.
La Stampa.it

Casella did not carry out his book with the modus operandi of a journalist: on the contrary, he described the train of thought and struggles of the protagonists with painstaking, sometimes sympathizing attention. It must have been hard on him.
La Regione

At once journalist and mountaineer, Casella was able to bring out a book that sits halfway between a mountain chronicle and a philosophical essay on life. The focus is on the quest for truth; the need to assert its objectivity in the muddy post-truth era we live in.
Corriere del Ticino

To read “The burden of shadows” was a gourmet experience – it was like slowly savouring a fine meal, enjoying its every bite, its every page. (…) Its subject are events concerning the history of mountaineering, but the book itself is not an inquiry upon their truthfulness: it’s more of an investigation upon what happens after a lie – or what we believe to be a lie – is told. Lives are bound to change, whether the protagonists like it or not.

Deciding to touch a raw nerve for everyone who is close the world of mountaineering, Casella took up a tough challenge – and he rose to it with striking elegance. Establishing the truth matters, but one must not be tempted to twist and distort it in its frantic pursuit.

This book is dedicated to those who have had to carry the unfair burden of lies, having been wrongly accused of being untrue; and to the liars, too. I hope these pages will help them figure out their own motives.

Some seasons are tougher than some others. Struggling as we are to stay afloat, we are unable to even think about the impact that some days, or months, or even years might have on our lives. There are crucial times, no matter how ordinary or dramatic they happen to be, that are bound to affect a person’s future forever.
I was so keen to pursue my ambitions as a mountaineer that I numbed my inquisitiveness as a journalist. I hushed my own spirit – me, the champion of human rights and freedom of speech. I left for Tibet with the bitter prospect of obeying the Chinese ban on visiting Lhasa and the other rebel cities of the province.
What’s the point of denying it? When you chase after a selfish goal, everything you usually stand for – your morals, your life code – swiftly slip to the bottom of a drawer. A double-lock one, at that.
One day I read an article on the Internet. A skyrunner, who enjoyed the sponsorship of several major brands of mountaineering gear, announced he had climbed to the top of K2 – on his own. This Pakistani eight-thousander presents even more challenges than its illustrious peer, Mount Everest, and the victorious summitter was determined to conquer the top of each second tallest mountain in every continent. His Asian goal was K2.
However, this wasn’t the real scoop. Upon coming back to Europe, the mountaineer had surrendered to the pressure of the media and had confessed he had lied. Weeping, he told journalists that he had fooled the whole world as well as himself.
It was the picture at the summit that gave him away. It didn’t offer any solid elements to ascertain the exact location of the shot; what it did offer was, in fact, a few suspicious details in the background. As it turned out, the picture hadn’t been taken on the top of K2, but further down.
The news hit me hard. My gut reaction was to blame the mountaineer without appeal. He had brought disgrace upon a sport associated with trust, betraying what should be a cardinal principle of human behaviour: the respect for truth.
Two issues made me curious: how a lie, or what is thought to be a lie, comes into being; and what happens to the life of the alleged liar.
What is it that starts ticking in our head, I wonder, when we decide to tell a lie? It’s some sort of subtle mechanism at work in our psyche, something that all of us are familiar with. It’s not peculiar to mountaineering.
What pushed me to write this book was the realisation of how immensely life-changing this “True or False” game can be – a vain thing in itself, and yet able sometimes to lead us as far as the dock.
I decided to examine only the most thought-provoking cases in terms of human experience.
Lies – even the mere doubt of a lie – have often changed a person’s future. My book looks into the lies that affected the existence of several mountaineers of varying renown. Lies are the burdensome shadows that these people had to carry in their backpacks throughout the rest of their days.
The practise of an infallible test in order to ascertain a person’s innocence or guilt – like a DNA test, that has saved many a convicted’s life in the USA – is not a thing in the domain of mountaineering.
Doubt resists, and so does its shadow.

While I was working on this book, my eyes fell on the summit picture that I took on top of Mount Cho Oyu. In the background there’s nothing but clouds and some stripes of blue: no solid, conclusive element to tell where the picture was actually taken.
What if, I wondered, what if somebody wakes up tomorrow and decides to question my feat?
It was then that the burden of shadows plummeted upon my shoulders.

The novel Nero-bianco-nero (“Black-white-black”), translated into German under the title of “Schwarz Weiss Schwarz”, has been published by AS Verlag.
The burden of shadows” has been nominated for the 2018 ITAS Awards.

Mario Casella (1959) has a degree in Arts and Philosophy and has been a mountaineer since his boyhood. In 1985 he obtained the federal qualification of mountain guide and started to work occasionally as a journalist. He then became a full-time journalist, working for the radio and for RSI, the Swiss public broadcasting organisation in Italian language. He has worked on several documentaries and reportages, mostly abroad: he documented the fall of the Berlin wall and covered the events that took place in former East Germany and Eastern countries, in Russia, Chernobyl, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and so on. In 2011 he published Black-White-Black. A voyage in time through the Caucasian mountains, which was awarded the following prizes: Winner of the ITAS prize 2013, Winner of the Leggimontagna2011 literary prize (narrative), 9th edition, and Recommended book for the “Exploration and Voyages” category of the Gambrinus “Giuseppe Mazzotti” prize 2011 (29th edition).
The burden of shadows” has been nominated for the 2018 ITAS Awards.
Winner of the SAT Prize 2018

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No longer available: German, Korean, French