Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is a beautifully told story of misery.
The story was set during the American Civil War and alternately followed Inman as he surreptitiously travelled home to his farm on Cold Mountain after deserting the Confederate Army after being injured, and Ada, a minister’s daughter eking out a living on her father’s Cold Mountain farm.
Inman’s chapters began with him deserting his military hospital in the middle of the night. Gradually the reader learned that Inman had initially gone to war for adventure rather than because he believed in the South’s cause, but over the four years of the war he, like most of his fellow men, had had enough of death.
Inman’s journey was epic. At all times he had to hide from the Confederate Home Guard who were on the hunt for deserters, but he also had to fight and outsmart thieves who would have killed him for what little he had. At one point Inman prevented a preacher from killing a young woman whom the preacher had made pregnant. Later, the preacher caught up to Inman after being beaten by his community after they learned what he had done, and they travelled together until the preacher’s lust got him into trouble again, but throughout most of his journey Inman travelled alone. He starved most of the time but occasionally was fed or assisted by those with kind hearts, who usually had very little to share. Sometimes he had to watch out for bears.
Back on Cold Mountain, Ada had found herself completely unfit for living on a farm after her father’s death. He had always paid others to work the farm and when her money ran out, Ada starved for want of practical knowledge. Ada might have returned to Charleston to throw herself on the mercy of distant relatives, but when Ruby, a poor, uneducated woman arrived on her doorstep it was the saving of Ada. With Ruby’s knowledge they worked together to make the farm productive and in turn, Ada shared her ‘book’ stories with Ruby.
Before the war Inman and Ada’s relationship had been slight, although they had been attracted to each other and Inman had given Ada a photograph of himself as a keepsake. They had written to each other during the war years and during his long journey home, Inman had a sense that he was returning to Ada.
The Native American history of Cold Mountain was woven into the story, and the reader was made aware that the country these characters lived in first belonged to the Cherokee and Creek people who had been displaced from the area. Slavery was always in the background too and sometimes in the foreground, such as when a character asked if he thought the war to protect the plantation owners’ right to own slaves and become rich had been worthwhile to the many poor men who fought and died for the Confederate Army.
The story was very eventful and I liked how Inman’s more adventurous journey was balanced with Ada’s domestic hard work and learnings.
Frazier’s writing is very good. Although I didn’t like the punctuation style of dashes being used for dialogue, the dash style did suit the time the story was set and the character’s dialect which was usually brief and very direct.
I’m glad I hadn’t seen the film of the same name before reading Cold Mountain, as I can’t imagine Nicole Kidman as Ada, Renee Zellweger as Ruby or Jude Law as Inman. I’m sure I’ll watch the film sometime and that I will enjoy it, but I liked reading the book and imagining these characters in my own way.