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Cold Mountain Paperback – August 31, 2006
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A Whitmanesque foray into America: into its hugeness, its freshness, its scope and its soul.” James Polk, The New York Times Book Review
An astonishing debut . . . a genuinely romantic saga that attains the status of literature.”Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
As close to a masterpiece as American writing is going to come these days.” Fred Chappell, Raleigh News & Observer
Charles Frazier’s feeling for the Southern landscape is reverential and beautifully composed. He has written an astonishing first novel.” Alfred Kazin, The New York Review of Books
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Inman sets off on a long foot journey; a horse would both require care and attract attention. The journey could take months. Each chapter is a story of a character that Inman meets along the way. Some characters reappear in later chapters, but each chapter could have been written as a short story.
One entertaining part of the reading experience with this book was that I had to use a dictionary, frequently. This well researched book uses vocabulary of the time to describe things that are no longer in common use. I did not know what “mast” was (p 83). The phrase “where the horse was taken from between the thills and put in a stall” (p.201) stopped me. What are thills? Even the Kindle supplied dictionary was sometimes not helpful; either there was no definition or the definition given made no sense in context. Further research gave me the answer and I liked the challenge.
There is an interesting style of writing with complex sentences that provoke several thoughts from just one sentence.
“The man had a big round head which sat unbalanced on him like God was being witty about making the insides of it so small. Though he was nearly thirty according to Stobrod, people still called him a boy because his thoughts would not wrap around the least puzzle. To him, the world had no order of succession, no causation, no precedent. Everything he saw was new-minted, and thus every day was a parade of wonders” (p. 262).
Inman’s need to walk and hide at the same time takes him through forests, along ridges, over and through streams and rivers. He walks through seasons and observes changes. For the nature loving reader, this book is a delight with is detailed, informed description of terrain. Not only is central character Inman alone, the object of his journey and desire, Ada, is also initially alone. She remains in one place, becoming a self-taught gardener by necessity caused by war, until joined by Ruby. Ruby’s existence prior to meeting Ada was a lonely one. Here we also find great passages describing living in the woods, alone, from about the age of three. Although she and Ada live together, Ruby has no words to spare for Ada unless they have profit and meaning. The lone, self-reliant existence is reinforced. Characters living alone give rise to internal dialogue and philosophical interpretation. Ada did this from an educated background; Inman was more self-taught. Ruby was common sense survival driven. Resultant commonalities and differences were shown, not explained. Great writing.
There is much more to write about how great this book is, but other reviewers have done a great job. I just wanted to add my observations. Are there any negatives? Only if the reader does not like very detailed descriptions of nature; even then the writing is great, it just doesn’t move forward as fast. I believe this to be a must read book for anyone who loves and works with literature.
All in all, this book is figuratively a roller coaster of emotions. One time you will feel joy, and then the next you will feel sad. I would not spoil the other emotions, as you would have to read it for yourself.
Cold Mountain tells the story, usually in alternating chapters, of Inman, a Confederate soldier, and the woman he loves, Ada. When the book opens, Inman is in a hospital in North Carolina, having been shot in the neck in fighting outside of Petersburg, Virginia. When he's reasonably recuperated--his wound yet a supurating sore but no longer likely to kill him--he determines to walk home rather than return to the army, a trek that means months of hardship and could end in his being captured or shot by the Home Guard, who are on the hunt for deserters. Ada, for her part, is back home facing her own difficulties, the hard business of surviving, for which she has been woefully unprepared. The life stories of the various characters whom the two meet are woven into the narrative as well, so that the book is larger in scope than it would be if it were only focused on Inman and Ada.
A summary of the book can't possibly do it justice. In telling the small story of Inman and Ada, Cold Mountain manages to tell a much larger one: it describes the life of the average man in the South during the Civil War years, the grueling work that mere survival required. But against a miserable backdrop, the difficulties imposed by nature and by the cruelty of one's fellows, hope remains possible. And redemption.
So I'm no longer cursing Frazier's masterpiece (though I still think the early part about Inman's friendship with Swimmer would best be omitted). Nor am I cursing my daughter's assignment. In fact, I'm impressed that her school assigned a book that is not only challenging but also often indelicate. This is refreshing in world that is so often politically correct to the point of madness.
-- Debra Hamel