Monday, January 5, 2015

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ 
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: December 28, 2014

Cold Mountain is a novel about a soldier’s perilous journey back to his beloved near the Civil War's end. At once a love story and a harrowing account of one man’s long walk home, Cold Mountain introduces a new talent in American literature. Based on local history and family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey thru the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman and Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered. Frazier reveals insight into human relations with the land and the dangers of solitude. He also shares with the great 19th century novelists a keen observation of a society undergoing change. Cold Mountain recreates a world gone by that speaks to our time.

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I was hesitant to tackle Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. The novel is so popular that I honestly wondered what value another review might hold or if I could possibly compose something with any degree of originality. I worried that I might not like the novel, that the style of the narrative wouldn't appeal and that I'd be forced to acknowledge the book didn't live up to the movie it had inspired. Thankfully, my anxiety proved baseless, for I enjoyed the novel far more than I'd dared hope when I acquired it.

The story wasn't exactly new to me, but I found the details that didn't make the screen improve the tale beyond measure. The adaptation isn't without merit for it emulates the spirit of Frazier's work quite well, but there is no further comparison to be made. The depth with which the author portrays Inman and Ada simply doesn't translate to Minghella's film. The supporting cast enjoys similar treatment and their back-stories add further insight to the human side of war and the harsh realities of life in the shadow of such conflict. The fiction is an assemble piece and I found the scope much to my liking, the intricacies of it giving color and tang to a very intimate story of emotion and solitary struggle.   

The cadence of Frazier's prose speaks to a time long gone. It's simple and reflective, but there is a lyrical quality about the language, an inherent accent and inflection that echoes the speech, journals, newspapers and letters of the mid-eighteen hundreds. It speaks to the senses, resounding the tragedy of war and loss that have come to characterize the era. I recognize that many readers have had difficulty with the measured pace of the novel, but I personally feel the unhurried nature of the narrative one of its greatest strengths. Frazier's careful restraint is appropriate to the subject matter and tone he aimed to strike with the piece. A hasty delivery might have been more exciting, but I doubt the final product would have been as affecting. 

The finale felt rushed, the odyssey of Inman's travels and Ada's transformation culminating a few scant pages of borrowed time, but I'm still quite happy with the time I spent on Cold Mountain. It is a moving piece, sorrowful in many ways, but as beautiful and haunting as the Blue Ridge Mountain from which it takes its name.  

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He talked to her of the great waste of years between then and now. A long time gone. And it was pointless, he said, to think how those years could have been put to better use, for he could hardly have put them to worse. There was no recovering them now. You could grieve endlessly for the loss of time and the damage done therein. For the dead, and for your own lost self. But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on. And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell, Inman said, for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you are. All your grief hasn't changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You're left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it's knowing you carry your scars with you.
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