on May 2, 2004
The contents of this novel are well represented by that huge, misty landscape on the cover. Cold Mountain seems to come from another era, one where authors weren't forced into the straightjacket of pithy sentences and cheap wit; it's reminiscent of Twain or Robert Penn Warren, huge, sprawling and thoughtful; there's something almost miraculous about it.
Some people may have been dissapointed with the novel because it isn't really about two of the things that it was reported to be about. It isn't pedantic historic fiction, a la 'The Killer Angels,' and not meant to shed light on the Civil War as a histroical phenomenon. It also isn't much as a retelling of the Odyssey. The underlying theme - looking for home and encountering obstacles - is the same, and there may be some resemblances between the obstacles that Ulysses and Inman face, but the heritage isn't noteworthy in any way.
What Cold Mountain does have is an endless depth of innovation in theme and style and character. It manages somehow to shift from a rousing adventure story to a contented and charming chronicle of farm life, to an eerie, sort of Sartrean mediation on life and morality, to an exploration of Southern folklore and small personal history. You can feel the author's talent stretching the bounds of the subject matter sometimes. He wants and has the ability to write about everything, from the greatest person to the smallest, from a gruesome battle to dinner in an inn. It's so eclectic, even, that it begins to approach a fault, but Frazier ties things together nicely using the theme of the war. Early on, Robert E. Lee is criticized for his smug 'It's a good thing war is so terrible; otherwise we might grow to like it.' Inman reflects that for a man like Lee, noble and dramatic, war is really not terrible, and that he has no compunction about sending 'lesser' men to die. Later on, this malcious spirit of greatness takes form as General Teague, captain of the southern home defense force, a real Bond villian of a character. The first couple of times he appears, complete with sidekicks, hammy dialogue and gut-splattering violence, are so brilliantly calculated; later, when he tracks down and confronts Inman, it plays out in such an intriguingly symbolic way, bringing the novel to a satisfactory close. There's a point where, reflecting on the death of a scoundrel, Inman thinks something like: 'There was no sense of redemption or nobility about it...neither did it seem like a deserved or justified end. It had simply happened,' and that seems to be the theme. Cold Mountain tries to encompass almost everything in life, and succeeds more than you would think possible.
One would be hard pressed to think of any words of praise that have not already been heaped upon Charles Frazier's Civil War masterpiece "Cold Mountain." Winner of the National Book Award, it has been called "Magnificent," "Impressive and enthralling," "Magnetic." These views were shared by millions of readers who bought the book and eagerly shared it with friends.
Fortunately, my task is not to amplify the accolades that "Cold Mountain" has already received but to focus on the unabridged audio version read by the author. Many have called Mr. Frazier a born storyteller, that appellation proves true in his sometimes intense, always understanding reading.
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, he brings appropriate voice to the saga of Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier who leaves his regiment to begin a trek home to Ada, the woman he loves, and a farm on Cold Mountain.
Set against a backdrop of the last days of the Civil War and the changes that will bring much drama is found in the people Inman meets along the way and in his relationship to the ravaged land he encounters.
The recent release of "Cold Mountain" as a major motion picture starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger will undoubtedly win this popular novel countless new fans.
Yet a very special pleasure is to be found in listening to the story read by its author. Mr. Frazier has said in an interview that Inman is based upon his great great uncle and his great grandfather, both of whom were soldiers in the Civil War. In effect, this is a family story beautifully imagined and related.
Charles Frazier is the one man who could write it; he is the one man to give it voice.
- Gail Cooke
on June 6, 2004
I had been skeptical of this book for quite awhile. I've owned it since 1999, but hadn't gotten around to reading it until just recently. I suppose being skeptical added to the procrastination.
Boy, am I glad I finally read it. Frazier has put a lot of time and effort into this book, and it shows. He has a very unique style of writing (such his way of writing when a character speaks). Although many of us may not write like Frazier nor have a desire to, it is great to open ourselves up to a different style of writing. Lots of thought is put into every idea in the book. There are many unexpected twists.
Although this wasn't a story which I would normally be ecstatic about, it was definitely a good one. One of the few 'war' books I've actually lost myself in. Frazier's writing is very intriguing and definitely something to experience. It's also the kind of story that doesn't need to be read very quickly and in a short amount of time. Feel free to span this book over a month or more, gives you more time to think about everything in it.
on January 27, 2004
Cold Mountain is the kind of pleasant book which one should read if, or when, an easy moderately intelligent entertainment is desired. Charles Frazier's book is less like Homer and more like James Michener -- shorter, with fewer details, and brought up to current sensibilities. Ideally suited for making into a blockbuster movie. IMAGINE THAT!
Written in a slightly elegant, almost poetic tone, the book is not really a story so much as a collection of small vignettes. It has been said that the book is "based on local history and family stories passed down by the author's great great grandfather."
These stories are tenuously connected to a homeward bound Civil War journey made by a Confederate deserter named Inman. The events along the way are mostly dangerous and are more or less interesting with an air of factuality about them. While Inman is having his encounters, his love object, Ada (whom he met about three weeks before going off to war) remains at home on her inherited farm learning to, well, farm; since her preacher father had taught her nothing about crops or animals before he died. Ada is taught farming by her friend Ruby, a forceful and very practical hillbilly. Unlike Inman, Ada changes and grows during the book. Also unlike Inman she never actually faces any real danger. Sure, initially she does not know how to cook or farm, but the food is there to be had. Ada just does not know what to do with it, and would prefer to read books anyway. So, Ruby is quite handy.
Cold Mountain seems almost designed to be inoffensive. So much so, that I wondered if the author was intentionally being "politically correct." All of the bad guys are, in fact, guys -- white guys. Making sure to be fair, some of the bad men are Rebels, others are Yankees. This book is unlikely to be banned anywhere outside of Mecca (oops, maybe I shouldn't have said that!) The violence is not graphic, although there is plenty. Sex is pretty near non-existent and won't even make a twelve year old blush.
The plot is simple. The main characters are not the least bit complex (although a couple of the minor, passing, characters were very interesting. I loved the goat woman!). But predictability is a big problem. I was never surprised. At least a dozen times I knew what was going to happen next. This was especially disappointing in the climax, which I accurately predicted after the first page of the climactic chapter. The ending was something of a mess. Maybe the author was about to miss his deadline or something. The last half dozen pages were the only part that I had to re-read, because the events were not clear.
COLD MOUNTAIN would seem to be an anti-war book. Inman is a deserter because he is sick of war, and thinks it pointless. Yet he kills several people on his way back home. At least one of those killings was purely for revenge. So, apparently he is not a pacifist. But one cannot be sure of anything about this man, because the author provides us very little psychological insight -- and no depth of character, for Inman, or anybody else.
Nonetheless, Cold Mountain is pleasant to read. I have seen a recommendation that the book should be read only one chapter at a time. That way the reader can savor each of Inman's adventures one at a time. Also, concentrate on the author's descriptions of the flora and fauna of North Carolina. He seems to know of what he writes. His knowledge of Civil War history seems similarly solid. (I verified three or four issues, and he was historically accurate in each instance.)
But, don't expect a love story; don't expect surprises, don't expect a happy ending, and don't expect a meditation on the human condition. This book is more entertainment than art. Despite what you might hear, Cold Mountain is not worthy of comparison to Homer's Odyssey.
For those who care about such things, the movie does a pretty good job of being faithful to the book's story line. Of course, the typical liberties were taken - books and movies just aren't the same. More sex is in the movie than in the book (Hollywood is like that, ain't it?)
on January 15, 2004
This book is inherently anti-war, en suite to Homer's second epic, The Odyssey, which tells how a soldier (victorious unlike his Civil War counterpart Inman) longs for peace and home after killing for nine years (The first epic, The Iliad). And to acknowledge another reviewer's unqualified remarks classifying the novel as anti-male, I'll expand this thought. I cannot understand how (in the CM scene, which echoes Odysseus' death by the hands of his son Telegonus) shooting a teenage boy would be a mark of manliness, as this review implies. Is it manly to kill? I can think of several famous female killers. That he doesn't kill the boy is consistent with Inman's disgust with senseless violence. A young boy is not a worthy opponent in Inman's estimation - again, a patently anti-war message. That the book is pro-women does not prove it must be anti-male, either. I am impressed that Frazier has successfully addressed the effects of war on the victims who suffer away from the battlefields, and I think this is why he focuses on Ada's life where she must learn to survive without a man because she will eventually lose hers (unlike her Ithacan counterpart Penelope, who ends up remarrying). This said, Cold Mountain is a worthy addition to any one's personal library. I carry graduate degrees in history, philosophy, and literature - and I cannot think of a better mix of these studies within any other book of American contemporary fiction.
on January 13, 2004
I have been listening to the audible.com downloaded version of this book, which is an unabridged reading by the author. Though I have not read the book, only listened, I have a sense that the recording adds qualities to the experience. The author unerringly captures the melancholy, bleak, and poetic quality of his own prose. He has a soft southern accent which suits the tale, and a resigned tone that perfectly fits the narrative. As they say in the movie blurbs "Paul Frazier *is* Inman."
The book has a symbolic quality, all of the hellish experiences of the trek back to Cold Mountain remind me of Pilgrims Progress. Every encounter is both itself and an allegory of life, and every character is both himself and an emblem. This is so hard to do well, and so gracefully done in Cold Mountain, that I am just stunned at Frazier's skill.
This is a great recording of what sounds like a great book. I think there is a good chance that I would not have responded so positively to the book alone, so I highly recommend the recording.
on January 4, 2004
Charles Frazier's first novel is literally gorgeous. His story of two separated and uncertain southern lovers and their survival and personal growth during the lean Civil War years is excellent, but what really makes this book so great is its imagery. Frazier paints Ada and Inman's mountain territory with a loving and detailed hand, so well-drawn that ALL your senses are engaged throughout the novel.
Yet this is no Conrad-style monotonously descriptive work. Against the living tapestry of the mountains, the main story of Ada and Inman (the lovers) and the people they meet along their journeys is drawn with equal skill, and the book is truly a difficult one to put down. It explores the range of human emotion, tying that in with the themes and seasons of the natural world; both of those things are a constant presence in the story.
The disappointment comes at the end, which I will not reveal. Suffice it to say that it is probably part of what makes the book (and the movie) such powerful potential award-winners, but I did not care for it, and it decreased my enjoyment of a book otherwise well-worth savoring on long afternoons from your front porch.
on December 31, 2003
First off, I must admit that Cold Mountain is not for everybody. I was not quite sure as to what exact dynamic to expect when undertaking Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain is by no means a war book. Nor is it, however, a romance novel - by any stretch. It is, as most great works are, difficult to categorize. Due to its unique writing style it, invariably, breaks the mold of your typical war or love drama genre. For those Civil War buffs looking for bloody detail into the battle of Fredricksburg or insight into the life of a soldier, look elsewhere. For those looking for love and romance, look elsewhwere as well.
For those, however, looking for an extraordinarily well-crafted work of ingenuity and originality, look here. The book, while slow developing, gathers intrigue & momentum as it progresses through the weaving and meandering tale of Cold Mountain residents Ada, Inman, Ruby, and their many encounters with a rather eclectic, if not downtrodden, group of individuals. Although morose and macabre at times with its themes of death and despondency in the present interspersed with hopeful peace and love on the horizon, Cold Mountain remains profound and luminous throughout - not unlike the central characters.
Fittingly, while the South is on the proverbial cusp of the most vastly transformational epoch in its history, Ada, Inman, and Ruby undergo similarly arduous travails while overcoming immeasurable adversity - in what amounts to their very own transformation - each one singular in its own regard. Cold Mountain, much like Ada, Inman, & Ruby, proves itself a true profile in courage, resilience, and perseverance.
"To Ada, though, it seemed akin to miracle that Stobrod, of all people, should offer himself up as proof positive that no matter what a waste one has made of one's life, it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial."
on December 28, 2003
What a brutal novel! I have never cared less about two characters in fiction. The fact that one protagonist, Inman, displays moments of poetic philosophical thought, and even tenderness and helpfulness, does not redeem his base nature. He is a thug. I suspect that the author was imagining that Inman's journey home from a Civil War hospital to Cold Mountain could be likened to an American Odyssey. However, unlike Ulysses, Inman does not expand in heart or soul during his journey, and the world at large gains little by his presence, except for a couple of instances when his violence benefitted those he deemed worthy of his help. Ada, the other protagonist, at least fared better than Penelope. Rather than sitting at home weaving and fending off suitors, she rises above her delicate upbringing and learns how to take care of herself and her farm, only because of the knowledgeable caring of the hardscrabble Ruby. I forced myself to march through this gruesome book, hoping that there would be redemption at the end, but what redemption I found was thin and unsatisfying.
on December 27, 2003
It took me several attempts before I could finally get into this novel because it starts out so slowly. The story of a deserter who struggles to return home to his sweetheart, waiting for him back at Cold Mountain and who is going through her own trials, is dark and gloomy; there is little joy in this tale. On the plus side, Charles Frazier, the author, has a real affinity for Civil War era rural South and uses language well to give the reader the feel of what life was like then. However, while undoubtedly there was much hardship, somehow COLD MOUNTAIN seems an unbalanced representation, both historically and emotionally, of those times. The writing style tends to call attention to itself and there is the annoying absence of quotes for dialogue, but altogether I have to admit I found the writing powerful and sometimes quite beautiful. This is a literate novel and a flaw is that it is too obviously intended to be literate. It seems to have sold well but it is not written as a popular novel; it reads more like something we were assigned to read in sophomore English Lit. If Frazier would try writing for the general reader and not try so hard to impress his university friends, he could write a hell of a good novel. Meanwhile, for a great book on the Civil War, one that is very readable and entertains the reader as well as being good literature, try KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara.