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[169] Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier

cold-mountain“She could make no more of it after the fifth reading than she had from the first, which was that Inman seemed to have reached some firm conclusion about the state of feeling existing between them, though Ada could not herself put a name to how she thought things stood.” [245]

Turning the last page of Cold Mountain is like awakening from a dream of a vanished America in all its savagery. The dream-like quality of the landscapes and time vacuum of a Confederate soldier’s journey home endow the book a magical feeling. It tells the story of W.P. Inman, a wounded and fatally disillusioned deserter from the Confederate army near the end of the American Civil War who walks for months to return Ada Monroe, the love of his life at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For four years, Ada strives to revive her father’s derelict farm with the help of the orphaned Ruby, with whom she comes very close friend. As the farm has realized to Ruby’s meticulous designs, Ada has learned to fend for herself, mastering the craft of subsistence for which she was once ill-prepared.

Inman’s homecoming journey shares several similarities with Homer’s The Odessey, which subtly hints at the outcome of his trek across the disintegrating South. Being a deserter of the army, Inman is a fugitive who consistently dodges the Home Guard whose purpose is to search for Confederate soldier deserters. His advantage brings him to close converse with a run-away preacher, slaves, marauders, hooligans, bandits, bounty hunter and witches—helpful, benevolent, malign, pernicious, and betraying. What sustains him is his dream of building a cabin on Cold Mountain, having a life with Ada so quiet he would not need ears, running their lives by the roll of the seasons.

Early in the novel, at the soldier hospital, Inman imagines that the window in his ward can lead him to other places. This along with the description of the battle in Fedreicksburg not only exemplify the carnage of the war, but also personifies the historic massacres and draws readers into Inman’s mind, which is plagued by a mixture hope and frustration. Remembrance of Blue Ridge Mountain’s landscapes, the ever changing hues of blue, obstructed by thin fabric of mist, beholds a hope that will cure his anger and bitterness. His imagined scene of homecoming, which he plays repeatedly in his mind, becomes the hope of his heart. The serene but surreal dimension of his utopic vision of home amplifies how he pines his loss.

“His spirit, he feared, had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him as a sad old heron standing pointless watch in the mudflats of a pond lacking frogs.” [22]

Cold Mountain transcends the reality of home. It beholds the idea of another world, a better place, where Inman can be reborn. The onset of his journey hints at a reunion, but it is the spiritual and mental obstacle during the course home that provokes our thoughts about the longing for human connection. Beyond the sutured wound and mollified pain, the atrocities of war have robbed a man a part of him that can never be replaced, because he has to forfeit a part of him, a piece of his soul to cope with the atrocities.

“In the hollows of his eyes she could see that the depredations of the long war and the hard road home had left his mind scoured and his heart jailed within the bars of his ribs. Tears started in her eyes, but she blinked once and they were gone.” [405]

Read this book at its own pace. Let it unfold slowly and absorb that physical and mental picture of the landscape. The elegant prose is written in a manner to be savored, thus making it a slow read but it’s worth the effort. The slowness best conveys that yearning for a deeper presence in life. [Read/Skim/Toss]

14 Responses

  1. Like yourself Matt, I found this update on The Odyssey a slow but satisfying read, one to savour. I liked it so much I still haven’t tried Frazier’s second novel Thirteen Moons. If anyone else has, I’d be interested to hear what they think of it.

  2. Wow. I think this is the most glowing review you’ve written in some time. I should re-think this book. I’ve not read it as I generally tend to avoid historical fiction.

    I’m 2/3’s of the way through Crime and Punishment and enjoying it, by the way. Are you interested in doing a Q&A about it? I’ve found it to be a suprising book and would love to do something out of the ordinary with it.

    Let me know. 204mountain at comcast dot net.


  3. That was an amazing review Matt. I have not yet read this book (nor seen the movie), however found it here on vacation in a bookstore that was closing its doors. (Got the hardcover for 25 cents! I felt like I had hit the jackpot!) I will keep your advice in mind when I read it. I tend to race through books because I have so many I want to read. I will try to savor it instead!

  4. I started reading this book awhile ago but had to put it aside as I found that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be reading it as my mind wasn’t focused on the words t I was reading. It’s on my “to tackle later’ pile for now as it seems my brain doesn’t want to work too hard with reading.

  5. I agree with CB James. This is a very good review of a book that has planted doubt in many. I believe you have done justice to the writing. I’ll have to consider this book again, maybe reading it in a different setting.

  6. I enjoyed this book very much when I read it. I had some roadblocks as I was reading, but by allowing it to unfold slowly and keeping at it, I found it an intensely interesting and satisfying book.

  7. I wish I had read your review before I had read the book (read it a long time ago) because I think I needed to approach it with a different frame of mind. I really didn’t like this book at all unfortunately and now after reading your review I feel like I missed out. Will you read his other novel?

  8. Sarah:
    I’m definitely reading Thirteen Moons but I’m not sure when since I have a big pile of books to tackle. At least I’ve got holidays coming up. 🙂

  9. CB James:
    I’m looking forward to having the Q&A session on Crime and Punishment. The book has so much room for discussion. There is a spin-off to this book called The Gentle Axe by R.N. Morris. It might be of interest to you. 🙂

  10. Sandy:
    It does seem like winning a jackpot! Everything is so expensive here in San Francisco that it’s rare to have landed on a bargain like that. Even the used store would have to charge a bit more to stay in business because of the high rent.

    I’m a slow reader who sometimes pays too much attention to the words and language. I might have to take a speed-read course to pick up the pace while I’m reading! 🙂

  11. r:
    I do agree that you have to be in the right mood at the right time for this one. It’s usually true for every book but this one can be tough to like. Page after page of the fighting in Fredericksburg is enough for me to abandon it.

    I would also suggest finding a quiet locale to read this book (although it might be tough in Hong Kong, with all the crazy coming and going). 🙂

  12. Ken:
    Read it in a quiet atmosphere, and *don’t rush*. If you feel you have had enough, just put it down. It takes a bit of time to digest all the scenes of fighting and landscapes. 🙂

  13. Andi:
    Me too! I can’t stress enough how we have to let it unfold at its own pace. Cold Mountain is the kind of book you cannot race through. It’s written for readers to savor it. It took me almost 10 days to finish, and I was having a fun reading experience.

  14. iliana:
    I’ve got Thirteen Moons in the pile. Do you want to read it? Charles Frazier is a good author. He’s very observant of the human condition.

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