Black Mountain by Venero Armanno
University of Queensland Press, 2012. ISBN 9780702239151.
This eerie tale recounts the horrors of the Sicilian sulphur mines while imagining the future of scientific exploits into genetic engineering.
When twenty-two year old Mark Alter inadvertently plagiarises from the novel Black Mountain by Cesare Montenero, he begins a journey to find the old author and eventually finds himself. The story within a story follows Cesare Montenero from his earliest memories as an abandoned child through his exploitation as a child labourer in a tile factory to his time as a child slave in the horrific sulphur mines, his escape and eventual rescue by Domenico Amati. Cesare's saviour harbours secrets, which Cesare instinctively feels have something to do with him and he is right. Both men are products of genetic engineering, experiments that have been carried out in secret and were started by the Amati family with their wealth accumulated from their sulphur mines. In reading Cesare's story, Mark realises that he also belongs to this group of engineered people.
The author evokes sympathy for the victims of this experimentation and a questioning of the ethical and moral responsibility of the people in control. These current and contemporary ethical dilemmas will engage students, although the detail in recounting Cesare's and Domenico's experiences makes this novel more suitable for senior students, Year 10 and up. Although very different stories, Black Mountain and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go would make an excellent pair for senior English students.