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Cold Mountain

A book by Charles Frazier

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The Undiscovered Country

  • Mar 17, 2007
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Immense and reaching in its ambition, dense in its verbiage and sense of character and place, chilly in its view of life and man's fate, "Cold Mountain" is aptly titled, even if most of it weren't set on a steep North Carolina promontory of that name.

Inman, a soldier in the Confederate Army during the War Between the States, has had enough. Wounded, he escapes from the hospital rather than return to action for a cause he doesn't especially believe in and knows to be lost. Back in his home in the hills of North Carolina lives Ada, the minister's daughter Inman kissed before marching off. Does she share his ardor still, and wait for him as he treks across hard country to be with her?

Charles Frazier's story doesn't have much of a plot. It rather consciously if loosely evokes Homer's "Odyssey" just like James Joyce and the Coen Brothers did. Inman is captured on his journey by oddly beguiling women who lull him much the way the Sirens did Ulysses. In a series of chapters alternating with those depicting Ada on the home front, we see him either embroiled in other similarly evanescent incidents or hearing stories from here-and-gone characters that testify to the epic sense of life and tragedy that imbues Frazier's novel.

"What the music said was that there is a right way for things to be ordered so that life might not always be just tangle and drift but have a shape, an aim," Frazier writes as Ada listens to a vagabond fiddle player. "It was a powerful argument against the notion that things just happen."

On the other side of that equation is everything else in "Cold Mountain," parted lovers, starving babies, casualties of war, even a drake stranded in a pond growing icy with winter. The constant presence of war and death are not there for narrative tension but as a lens to a human condition that has scarcely succeeded in discovering anything else, despite all possible good intentions. Not a page of this novel isn't drenched in some sort of misery. That makes for tough going, as does a central storyline at times uninvolving.

What makes "Cold Mountain" so special is Frazier's descriptive language. You simply haven't read a book quite like this before. Certainly I haven't, and I've read a few. James Joyce once claimed his gift for language was such there wasn't any earthly concept he had to strain at presenting in prose, and Frazier has that gift more than anyone I've read, Joyce included.

Nature indeed is more of a character in "Cold Mountain" than any human barring Ada, Inman, and Ada's companion Ruby. The world around these characters is a constant reference point, and Frazier often takes entire pages describing birds roosting on dog hobble, or the slaughter of pigs. It's a world more than a hundred years old, and I wonder if it ever existed in reality half as firmly as it does in Frazier's head.

There's some nice glimpses into the human condition, too, though mostly via the natural world: "Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing," observes one crone who Inman meets tending goats.

"Cold Mountain" is a daunting tutorial for anyone who wants to pursue fiction as a career, with the caveat being you don't have to be quite as descriptive as Frazier. In fact, Frazier's descriptiveness holds the book down somewhat in terms of story (a movie based on this book tried nobly but suffered from the fact the book exists to be read, not adapted for the screen). It's just that the descriptiveness works so well for him.

In fact, "Cold Mountain" is a marvel of artistry in the way it conjures what it does, making you feel you walked with Inman and waited with Ada though every lived-in page. It's not for every casual reader, but if writing is something you take seriously, budget yourself some time and read it.

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More Cold Mountain reviews
review by . November 11, 2012
When I started Cold Mountain I wasn't entirely sure how much I might like it (full disclosure:  I have not yet seen the movie version starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellwegger).  It seemed from what I had read in the movie reviews and on the back cover that there was a great chance that the book might be too modern and precious to be good.  I am glad to admit my mistake, and boy was I wrong. Frazier's narrative, dialogue, and description is as spare, dry, and …
review by . June 14, 2010
This book was set in civil-war North Carolina, during a time where men were hauled off to war and the deserters were shot.    Ada Monroe learned things the hard way. After the death of her father and the love of her life, Inman's departure, she was left to fend for herself on the farm that she lived her whole life on. If not for Ruby's appearance one day at her doorstep to help, Ada was withering away in despair. Their friendship allows them to work together to produce crops …
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
The book is excellently written and captivating. The movie adaptation is terrible. Why can they not follow a good plot in a movie is beyond me.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
A decent book about a hrading working women. It moved a little slow for me.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
A very good book that takes place during the Civil War.
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. I have to admit it was somewhat disappointing.
review by . December 03, 2007
Even rustic Cold Mountain, NC feels the cold embrace of the Civil War and most of its young men answer the call to fight. Some of the more hardened stay behind and form the Home Guard, which amounts to nothing more than a group of violent men intent on delivering their own brand of justice to those they call outliers, deserters of the war.     This is the story of two people in Cold Mountain who meet, are separated by the war, and meet again, both drastically changed by the hardships …
review by . November 19, 2007
I wrote this review when the book was brand new, but am just now getting around to posting some of my older stuff. My take then: "It's time for GONE WITH THE WIND to move over, the Civil War has finally produced a great novel. This story of a perilous journey across North Carolina and an equally difficult journey of the heart rings far truer than other accounts of the era, and affirms ones faith in modern readers (many months a best seller) and the literary establishment (National Book Award). My …
About the reviewer
Bill Slocum ()
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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This unabridged audio version ofCold Mountain, read by author Charles Frazier, deserves at least as much acclaim as thebestselling print edition, which won the National Book Award. The tale chronicles a Confederate army deserter's search for home and love in the last days of the Civil War.

Much has been made of the story's homage to The Odyssey, the origins of which are found in an oral tradition. One can't help but hear echoes of Homer when listening to Frazier's soft, deliberate voice give life to his lyrical writing and to his understated, yet convincing rendering of the overwhelming events of war. Both Frazier's prose and reading are leisurely, recalling a slow foot pace. His delivery is uniquely suited to Innman's arduous, adventure-filled walk toward home and to the possibility of a reunion with Ada, the woman he loves. The author's reading does equal justice to Ada, who is being transformed by her struggle for survival on her father's farm. There is precious little dialogue, and Frazier makes no effort at acting out the characters.

One small irritation in the production is a beeping noise at the end of each side. Another minor complaint is that the tapes don't have individual boxes, which was perhaps an attempt to make the overall package appear more booklike. The recording does, however, make deft use of two brief musical interludes. In a subtle twist, the fiddle music that opens the first cassette, when repeated as an ...

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ISBN-10: 0802142842
ISBN-13: 978-0802142849
Author: Charles Frazier
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Grove Press
First to Review

"The Undiscovered Country"
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