The Mountain is the story of a journalist and his wife who try to escape the ravages of war while trying to rebuild trust after her affair.
Set in Yugoslavia during the Croatian War of Independence, it opens when American journalist John Anderson discovers a few days before hostile Serbian troops are due to take over their village that his European musician wife Anna has just ended a yearlong affair with a French diplomat. He forgives her at first but only a few days into their desperate escape to the Hungarian border his distrust of Anna re-emerges when they meet a soldier and shortly thereafter the couple mysteriously disappear. On suspicion of further infidelity he abandons any effort to find them and ventures forth across a mountain on an odyssey of renewal and self-discovery.
When he encounters a massacre in a small village he starts to wonder if he has made a mistake and unwittingly endangered her life. He then tries desperately to find her and save her from the tragic fate he believes he helped create.
Like Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls in its portrayal of war and its effect on human relationships, but with a deeper sense of psychological introspection and personal discovery that mirrors Peter Handke’s greatest novels (i.e. Repetition or Across - winner of the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award), The Mountain is Antonelli's most poetic and visionary novel yet.
The lights of the clay-tiled boardwalk flared and sputtered as the sun dropped below the horizon, casting brilliant bronze reflections off the shop windows, these myriad forms slowly vanishing into the warm lantern glow from inside the empty Austrian style cafés before finally giving way to the evening life of the village. A few young women stood on the street corner as though waiting for an intimate acquaintance to pick them up and take them to some restaurant or café. John Anderson watched them for a moment before closing his eyes and pressing his lips together. Something inside him told him it was happening again. He savored the words as though they were part of the opening titles of some great film that had just started playing in his head. What was happening again, he wasn’t sure. This phrase had echoed inside him off and on through the course of his life, emerging in his mind like a momentary smile from an unknown woman suddenly vanishing behind the veil of an indifferent crowd, a labyrinth of memories and lost desire. It was an experience that always made him feel that something in his life was about to change in a chaotic and unforeseeable way, that now matter how jarring or even painful would ultimately guide him to a higher level of self awareness and understanding. He closed his eyes for an instant, shutting out the disturbances from the outside world. When he opened them again he parted the curtains and looked out the window. An old man crossed the small stone bridge that straddled the narrow brook passing through the park in front of Anderson’s house and then flowing onwards towards the west side of the small shopping area that functioned as the center of the village. A child shouted something from across the street as he mounted his dark green bicycle; there was a loud crack like a firecracker and his voice was engulfed by the roar of a car from somewhere in the outskirts, Anderson couldn’t tell where.
It was only the day before that he first learned of Anna’s yearlong affair with a French diplomat. To make matters worse, an hour after his wife’s confession news blared over the radio of Serbian troops thirty miles to the south advancing towards the village. Staying in Pozega any longer would be disastrous. Foreign journalists were stationed in or around Vukovar to the east, but that was too close to Serbia and with the onset of all-out war it was best to get out of Croatia altogether. A bridge five miles to the north had recently been bombed to cut off supply routes. If they could just avoid the main roads and villages and make it across that river and push as far as Velika at the foot of the Papuk Mountains they could evade the advancing troops for long enough to cross the mountains and make it to Barcs on the other side of the Hungarian border. As long as they had a good terrain map and stayed close enough to the roads for occasional navigation without being spotted they could make it safely without getting lost.
When Anna first told him about the affair he reacted in a way that even he found surprising. Instead of becoming angry with her, he took it as concrete indication of his failure to please her, something that he ultimately connected to his inability to find any lasting satisfaction in his professional life. “If a man can’t please himself how can he please his wife?” he asked her as they edged slowly away from one another on the couch. Outside a dog barked nervously as though it had just confronted a foreign presence it neither trusted nor understood.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he stood up to look out the window. Perhaps the dog was barking at an unseen intruder. When he turned back Anna had a look of hopelessness in her eyes that suggested she was disappointed in him, perhaps by the equanimity of his response. He wondered if it would have been better to get angry with her and slap her like many men he had seen do to their girlfriends in Yugoslavia. Yet for some reason he was not angry with her and couldn’t deny that since moving to Yugoslavia to live out what they hoped would be their Year of Living Dangerously, with Anderson as Mel Gibson and Anna as Sigourney Weaver, their relationship had slowly dulled - the couple pried further and further apart by all of his commitments and the general malaise created by the Croatian War of Independence - to become little more than a series of borrowed events from other people’s lives. In fact, nothing he had ever done laid any claim to being original. Even his most unique views or gestures could always be traced back to something his uncle or father might have said, echoed through his personal experiences and then hybridized by a few random ideas absorbed from yet another external source. Even his feeling that he should have slapped her instead of showing such magnanimity was based on what he had seen other men do rather than something that came from some deep inner conviction.