The impact of the Civil War on lovers. Inman is not the man he used to be, as wounded in battle he slowly makes his way home to North Carolina. His sweetheart, Ada, too has changed, no longer a flighty belle but a hard-working farm woman. Will love be the same?
The narrative alternates between Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, and Ada Monroe, the bright, pampered daughter of an unconventional preacher who has decided to settle on a farm near Cold Mountain. Having had enough of killing and realizing the folly of the reasons for war, Inman becomes an outlier--a deserter--as he sets out for home, believing that Ada is his future and his redemption. When her father dies, Ada, who never felt fully at home in the salons of Charleston, refuses to return to the city and determines to make a life for herself in Black Cove. With the help and instruction of Ruby Thewes, she begins to understand the ways of the land and to recognize her place within it. Inman's road home is not an easy one. Pursued by the Home Guard, a vigilante-type posse intent on hunting down outliers, weakened by wounds that won't heal, exposed to the elements, and betrayed by his fellow man, he somehow manages to retain a sense of human decency. His dreams of Ada and of home keep him moving forward, despite seemingly impossible odds.
Cold Mountain is a love story, an anti-war story, a story man's place within the natural world, a little piece of history, a tale of human endurance. Frazier has done a remarkable job of writing the land in a way that is not only visual but atmospheric. All the elements of good prose come together in this moving, unforgettable novel.
Of the two alternating narratives, I found Inman's the most compelling. His is a Dante-like journey through the "Inferno" of the American South (comparisons could also be made to Homer's The Odyssey). While he time and again encounters people wallowing in depravity and sin in a seemingly lawless world, he also encounters along this hellish journey acts of selflessness and kindness that serve as balm to his soul when he's on the cusp of losing all hope. Ironically, those offering the greatest kindnesses are those who are the most excluded from society (slaves and women). Inman is a man who is capable of violence, but only when necessary. After killing indiscriminately in war, he's determined to do no harm unless it's absolutely unavoidable. It may be because of the violence that is still latent within him that Inman struggles so with the world and his place in it.
Of the reviews I've read, most readers disliked the novel's ending. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll only state that I thought the ending was the only possible one offered in a world consumed by war.
"The Federals kept on marching by the thousands at the wall all through the day, climbing the hill to be shot down. There were three or four brick houses scattered out through the field, and after a time the Federals crowded up behind them in such numbers that they looked like the long blue shadows of houses at sunrise. Periodically they were driven from behind the houses by their own cavalry, who beat at them with the flats of their sabers like schoolteachers paddling truants. Then they ran toward the wall leaning forward with their shoulders hunched, a posture that reminded many witnesses that day of men seeking headway against a hard blowing rain. The Federals kept on coming long past the point where all the pleasure of whipping them vanished. Inman just got to hating them for their clodpated determination to die."
The story is about Inman, who while recovering from an almost fatal wound, deserts and begins the journey home. He also journeys in search of the man he was and could be; he is no longer sure if he can live with himself and the ease with which he can kill. Frazier' s imagery again powerfully illuminates both the natural world Inman loves and his painful emotional world.
"He thought on homeland, the big timber, the air thin and chill all the year long. Tulip poplars so big through the trunk they put you in mind of locomotives set on end. He thought of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the nighthawks passing across the clouds in autumn could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears."
Inman, for that's all we ever know of his name, also hopes to find the woman, Ada, with whom he had begun to feel the potential for love before he left to fight in the Civil War. During the four years he's been gone, Ada, a cultured Southern girl, has been living on a farm near Cold Mountain, learning to cope with the death of her father, who left her knowing nothing useful for her own survival. She begins her own journey to find within herself a strong, self-sufficient woman. Her choice is to either return to Charleston and marry an older man who could protect her, or stay on the farm.
"From any direction she came at it, the only conclusion that left her any hope of self-content was this: what she could see around her was all that she could count on. The mountains and a desire to find if she could make a satisfactory life of common things here--together they seemed to offer the promise of a more content and expansive life, though she could in no way picture even its starkest outlines. It was easy enough to say, as her father often had, that the path to contentment was to abide by one's own nature and follow its path. Such she believed was clearly true. But if one had not the slightest hint toward finding what one's nature was, then even stepping out on the path became a snaggy matter."
The individual journeys of Inman and Ada are told in alternating chapters and contain other fully realized characters. Their experiences are rich with detail, introspection, hopefullness, trajedy, and beauty. It's a wonderful book.
It's to Frazier's credit that the narrative flowed well enough, with some pretty shapely prose, I continued on, instead of dropping this fast the way I did with the last book with this technique. On page 12 though I hit Strike Number Two, when in describing the battle of Fredericksburg, I hit a rather muddled point of view where it isn't clear if Inman overheard Generals Longstreet and Lee or was just told what they said. I did smile when I first met Ada, and her struggles against an obstreperous rooster.
However, the style meant I could never sink into the story. Now, there's nothing more intrusive than many a style of omniscient I've loved or second person, yet I have loved novels that have used those techniques, but Frazier never clicked with me despite some lovely phrasing. I know many do love this novel though, which was a bestseller, so unless you're as allergic as I am to the technique, this might be worth a try.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed, but I would still recommend reading this book.
Often dense, generally written in a lyrical fashion, the different stories told during the man's journey are interesting, but it is the woman's story that truly captivates. Her emotional journey to survive after her father's death and to become a homesteader, with her friend's guidance and tenacity, is the center of the story.
Style: The alternating stories work well until they reconnect with an unnecessary back-stitch. The ending is abbreviated; it looks like the soldier is still alive, but he isn't mentioned again by name and doesn't appear in the narrative. I would have liked to know, at the start, just where Cold Mountain was situated.
Caveat: The author admits to changing the supposedly true story, and altering geography.
While I could easily relate to the main characters, I thought the going very slow, the descriptions very long, the flashbacks very detailed and long. I started to hurry through it and it did not feel as if I was missing much. I know the book has been turned into a movie, and I can well imagine that: the landscape must be beautiful and apart from the occasional horrific story about war and/or cruelty, the story is really romantic. Inman is sometimes a bit too good to be true, and so is the relationship between Ada and Ruby, the girl who turns up like a deus ex machina and without whom Ada would have no choice but to return to Charleston and life in the city.
So: a mix of shocking violence and nice romance, perfect for a movie. Perhaps I was expecting too much of this book, but I was rather disappointed with it.
I hiked Cold mountain after reading the book there is a nondescript restaurant near a road leading there with GREAT hamburgers made from buffalo [for the price of a Hardees meal!]
I am still new to the autograph experience "please do not request [whatever it is they say to prevent you from asking the author to put something other than his signature on the book]" was announced several times while waiting in line. I stood next to an attractive 20something lady who had one of those phones screwed to her ear in order to avoid talking to someone like me but I pretended she was talking to me and struck up a conversation.
She worked at NPR [National Public Radio]WFAE or some such it turns out and asked if I listened. I launched into a snide tirade about how clever it was of UNCC to take all the tax money made available to start the radio station, put themselves in charge, and prevent locals from having input into programming. That reinforced all her instincts to not talk to me but by then it was too late. I mentioned that I had heard several radio commentaries by my old english teacher [[James Reston Jr.]] and though they were well done I had wondered until recently how he got so much air time. I had heard somewhere that his wife worked for NPR as a lawyer or some type of official and that the Pulitzer Prise winner had obviously ridden his wifes' coattails into the exposure. Which is probably not true but I was uncomfortable and I think that makes me negative.
By the time I got to Mr. Frazier and he was signing my book, I had mentioned [within earshot unfortunately] he looked like a guy who used to hold up the end of a bar in Asheville that I had met. He also noticed that the book was not "Thirteen Moons: A Novel" which was what the signing party was for but Cold Mountain which I had bought for like $5 in pristine condition from Book Buyers on Central Av. in Charlotte NC.
By that time I had forgotten the "no requests" announcements and asked that it be personalized in some way I forget, causing him to glare at me and quickly sign only his name.
A very tolerable person over all I think.
The NPR girl was rescued by a guy she had called on the phone screwed to her ear and convinced to pretend to be her husband and left amidst stage like hugs and affections for the benefit of those watching.
Suprisingly, I found a lot to like about this work although it is anything but action packed. It's the story of two individuals during the American Civil War. The action, if you can call it that, takes place in the American south where the young woman Ada's father dies and she inherits his land. The story also involves Inman, a former Confederate solider who deserts his battalion and is headed home to Ada, whom he believes he loves.
What I found to like about this novel is its story-telling, description of nature, and characters. Inman has a long journey for certain, but he meets colorful and unique characters along the way. His interaction with these individuals in a background of plants and animals native to this area of the south (from Virginia to North Carolina) provides nice stepping stones on the path of this story.
For sure, this story is quietly told. However, it does make for a very solid read for anyone interested in life as it existed during the Civil War years.
Highly recommend this book. It deserved all its awards. If anyone hasn't read it, they should.
The story of Ada, Inman and Ruby takes place in the middle of the Civil War. Soldiers have been fighting long enough and violent enough to begin feeling as if they've had enough. Their dreams of fighting the good fight and destroying the Federals in a quick championed war have literally been shot to hell. Many of them simply walk away, only to be hunted by bands of horsemen who either return them to the war or shoot them for being traitors. Inman is one of these soldiers.
Four years before the story begins, Inman left home and Ada. She is all he can think of as he crosses miles and miles of woods and water, hiding in caves, dodging the Federal horsemen and subsisting on only what he can scrounge up, buy or steal, and/or the goodness of strangers.
Ada herself left her home in Charleston to follow her minister father to Cold Mountain so that he could preach his progressive beliefs. Her mother having died in childbirth, Ada has only her father to depend upon and to teach her how to live. When Ada's father Monroe dies, Ada with only her Charleston societal knowhow, is left to fend for herself in the unforgiving mountains. Having no one and nowhere to turn, Ada decides to somehow climb out of her grief and find a way to live.
Ruby is the holder of Ada's light.
Ruby has grown up in Cold Mountain without her mother as well and a drunk for a father. She learned from a very early age how to fend for herself and how to make ends meet. She approaches Ada after one of the mountain people mentions that Ada might need some help. Ruby offers Ada help in return for a fair trade and equal treatment. Ada and Ruby begin an unlikely reciprocal friendship that will stand the test of time.
What I Liked
Ruby was my favorite character. She was so nonsensical and realistic about EVERYTHING. Almost as if she still viewed the world as a child...as intelligent as she was, she had no room nor any patience for "silly stuff." She learned to set her mind to nature and to work within the natural order of things rather than against them. She didn't see her intelligence as anything special though...it was just a part of life.
I loved Frazier's detail and descriptions. While this kind of description may get in some people's way, I can see the mountains, feel the crunch of the leaves under my feet, "hear" snow falling, feel the warmth of a hot fire and also the freezing cold of a dark Winter night. The reader is a part of the character's journeys; Frazier takes you with them and you feel as if you are walking through the woods in line...how in the world they could keep up with where they were in those woods is beyond me...but Frazier has them point out markers and look to the skies and read the natural signs for times and seasonal changes.
The humor...embedded among the hardships, sadness, stomach turning scenes is a natural and sometimes sarcastic humor. I say "natural" because none of the characters are trying to be funny...they are simply "calling a spade a spade" which is so ridiculous at times that it's funny. I think the humor helps the reader get through the story and all it's sadness, but also I think humor probably was how these folks actually made it through every single day of their immensely hard lives.
What I Didn't Like
If I say I didn't care all that much for Inman, is anybody going to get mad at me?? I found it a little unrealistic that these two people realized just how much they loved each other over the four years Inman was gone...when they really hardly knew each other when he left? I'm not saying that I don't think they belonged together; I'm just saying that it was more of a practical arrangement...one that probably would have worked well...but I didn't see them "falling in love" romantically before Inman left.
Stodbrod...what father leaves his toddler behind to fend for herself??? I don't even care if he kept himself drunk to lessen the pain of losing his wife; he had a child from that wife to take care of...and he chose not to.
Monroe...another weak male father character...this one chooses to grieve for his wife in a different way...by holding onto the life they would have had and not letting his daughter grow up. Even with signs of critical illness, he did nothing to prepare his daughter for the world ahead of her.
Although there is a good bit of dialogue in this novel, there are no quotation marks. There were times when I had to back up and re-read to make sure what I was reading was what someone said. I'm interested to find out if there was some particular reason Frazier chose not to use quotation marks or if it is just a quirk of his.
My Overall Response
I'm so glad I read this...I had so many people tell me I wouldn't like the ending...but I did. Actually, it's a hard ending to say I "liked"....but it made sense to me. Obviously I won't say anything here to spoil it for anyone, but frankly a happily ever after ending would not have made any sense at all for this novel. The entire novel is about life during the Civil War and its hardships. As I type the word "hardships," it doesn't even seem to cover it. This ain't Cinderella, people.
Cold Mountain tells the tale of Ada and Inman, two people just meeting and starting to fall in love when they are thorn apart by war. While Inman is fighting for his life in a war hospital, back home in Cold Mountain Ada is also fighting to survive, after the death of her father. Sick and tired of war, Inman becomes a deserter, and begins the long and hard journey home to Cold Mountain and his Ada.
"Come back to me is my request." Sigh.
A beautiful tale of love and war, told in a stunning way. At times Frazier took the descriptions of the mountains a bit too far and it became a tad tedious - however, this is done in such a beautiful way, that it doesn't draw the book down. Quiet, longing and passionate - just lovely.
Reccomended for lovers of historical-fiction.