Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

My desert island shelf contains all my favorite books which I have encountered since I began reading decades ago. I would want these books if I could have no others.

Cold Mountain has a prominent place in this collection, since it is one of the most beautifully written novels I have read from the 20th century. Everyone who reads it has a favorite passage or line. My list of favorite lines includes dozens, but here are two examples of this wonderful author’s talent:

"All Inman remembered of another days march was the white sky and that sometime during it a crow had died in flight, falling with a puff of dust into the road before him, its black beak open and its grey tongue out as if to taste the dirt." (115).

Then, while Ada and Ruby, a local farm girl who comes to help Ada run the farm, take a walk on the property, Ruby points out animals and plants Ada never noticed.

"Off in the river stood a great blue heron. It was a tall bird to begin with, but something about the angle from which they viewed it and the cast of low sun made it seem even taller. It looked high as a man in the slant light with its long shadow blown out across the water. Its legs and the tips of its wings were as black as the river. The beak of it was black on top and yellow underneath, and the light shone off it with muted sheen as from satin or chipped flint. The heron stared down into the water with fierce concentration. At wide intervals it took delicate slow steps, lifting a foot from out the water and pausing, as if waiting for it to quit dripping, and then placing it back on the river bottom in a new spot apparently chosen only after deep reflection." (149-150)

On a long drive for the holidays, we listened to the author read Cold Mountain. This actually represented my third read of this lovely, intense, entrancing story. Ada Monroe, and her father, a preacher from Charleston, SC, move to Black Cove, near Cold Mountain, just west of Asheville in the days before the Civil War. This tiny, remote town is the opposite of Charleston with its mansions and society. Ada meets Inman, a local farmer, and the attraction is immediate and complete. Then the war breaks out. Inman gives Ada a tintype and promises to come back to her. We learn all this through numerous flashbacks, because the novel actually begins with Inman recovering from a almost fatal wound at the battle of Petersburg in Virginia. He is given up for dead, but he lingers on, and when nearly recovered – fearing a return to the front lines – walks away from the hospital. He heads back to Cold Mountain.

The chapters alternate between Inman’s difficult and epic journey home, and Ada’s attempt to survive alone after the death of her father. If you have never read this novel, you have missed a wonderful, enthralling treat, which you will return to again and again. 10 stars!

--Chiron, 12/31/09

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