The original novel was published in 1957.
The story of twelve-year-old Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò is narrated by his younger brother, Biagio. Set in Liguria near the French Riviera, the two brothers belong to a noble 18th-century family whose estate is located in the vast forest landscapes of Ombrosa. The regions of Italy have not yet united and the Ligurian Coast is not ruled by a legitimate king.
In a rebellious fight after refusing to eat a dinner of snails prepared by Battista, his sadistic sister, Cosimo climbs up a tree and decides never to come down again.