Barnabo of the Mountains was Buzzati’s first published novel. In 1933, the Italian literary scene was already heavily influenced by Fascism, which encouraged a combination of rural peasant values and classical, mythical heroism. Buzzati, however, exploring his own internal world, was unaffected by the political developments and in no way reflected his historical situation. Neither Barnabo of the Mountains nor the novella which followed, Il segreto del Bosco Vecchio (1935; the secret of the old wood), attracted much attention from the critics. In its surrealistic quality of moral fable, Barnabo of the Mountains was too far removed from the specific reality required of literature at that time. On the other hand, it remained totally inoffensive to the regime and therefore aroused no opposition.
Buzzati is not totally divorced from reality. The setting of the novel is realistic, as are the characters. The surreality, or absurd element, derives from the atmosphere of anxiety and mystery. The brigands, for example, while on one level real robbers or possibly smugglers, are invested with an almost supernatural aura.
Barnabo of the Mountains appears in English in a collection of Buzzati’s writings translated by Lawrence Venuti, The Siren (1984). This first novel clearly announces the elements of existential angst intermingled with fantasy parable which will continue through Buzzati’s later work, especially in Il deserto dei Tartari (1940; The Tartar Steppe, 1952), considered by many to be Buzzati’s major work.