Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review of Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

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 & a harrowing account of one man’s long walk home, Cold Mountain introduces a new talent in American literature.

Based on local history & 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 & 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 & Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.

Frazier reveals insight into human relations with the land & 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.

Frazier wrote Cold Mountain for one main reason: to tell a story. All throughout the novel, from the format to the plot itself, one can see the importance of history and the power of storytelling, which was why I liked Cold Mountain best. I found the theme of Cold Mountain also to be very inspiring. The theme became evident to me through many quotations and events, big or small, that occurred in the story. This theme, the power of the past, is one many people can relate to which is why the book was so successful.
Frazier wrote the story based on stories he knows from his great great Uncle and his great grandfather. In fact, the character Inman is based directly upon Frazier’s relatives, as he mentions in an interview with an author from Book Browse:
Turning to Cold Mountain: Who was the original Inman? 

He was my great great uncle. And part of the character was based on my great grandfather. Both of them went to the Civil War--volunteered in the first few months of that war fever and went off to battle. This Inman was in some of the worst fighting of the war… There were no photographs of him; he wrote no letters home. It's just a little fragment of a family story about this guy--of his war experience, his coming home, and what happened to him when he got there.  

                                                                                                                                Frazier on Book Browse
Loving history, this familial connection was very inspiring to me, as I also had relatives in the Civil War and other wars as well. This connection made the story feel more real and lifelike. The story is written from the point of view of the narrator and tells the story of the perspectives of two main characters, Inman and Ada. Every chapter the perspective would switch from Inman to Ada. This two-story-in-one was a nice setup and also helped to prove the theme. The author’s main reason in writing the story was simple; to entertain and inform. Frazier wrote to entertain the audience and provide a truthful account of the Civil War. Frazier also wrote to teach many lessons described in the book, including the effects of loneliness. Frazier’s style was all over the place: it was very elegant but it had a certain informality to it. For example,
“A horsefly followed him for a while, troubling his neck. It was a big black glob of buzzing matter the size of the end joint to his thumb, and he longed to kill it but could not, no matter how he jerked and beat at himself as it landed to bite out gouts of flesh and blood. The blows rang out in the still air. From a distance he would have seemed one of a musical temper experimenting with a new method of percussion, or a loosed bedlamite, at odds with his better nature and striking out flat-palmed with self-loathing” (55).
Cold Mountain truly achieved its goal in trying to tell a story. One of our main characters, Inman, was a soldier in the Civil War who we first see in a hospital. He decides one night while in the hospital to sneak out and walk his way back to North Carolina to reunite with his love, Ada. When we first meet Ada, Ada is trying to restore her father’s farm after his death. Ada finds herself to be extremely lonely. As the story goes on we follow both Inman and Ada’s journeys, through all of their complications. Ada and Inman’s paths meet, but they always somehow miss each other. It was quite frustrating to read actually, as the two could be so close but not know it. Inman ends up finding Ada, and the two spend four days together. After these four days the Home Guard find Inman and shoot and kill him. Cold Mountain to me was like a love story mixed with Homer’s The Odyssey, which I found to be entertaining.
            The theme of Cold Mountain, the power of the past, is one many readers including myself can relate to. Both the actual storyline of the novel but also the formatting helped me come to the conclusion that the past is something powerful. The character Inman struggled with what we would refer to now a days as PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as he had constant flashbacks and dreams of what violence had occurred to him during the war. In the very first chapter in which Inman meets the blind man and tells him his story, Inman is haunted by his past. “But what Inman did not tell the blind man was that no matter how he tried, the field that night would not leave him but had instead provided him with a recurring dream, one that had visited him over and over during his time in the hospital” (9). This powerful memory turns into motivation for Inman and Cold Mountain becomes the answer, “So he held to the idea of another world, a better place, and he figured he might as well consider Cold Mountain to be the location of it as anywhere” (17). This leads to Ada. Ada leads a different life, as she struggles to re-invent her father’s farm. Ada struggles with loneliness as she lives alone in trying to restore her father’s farm to its former glory and she also tries to cope with Inman being gone. Ada’s remembrance of Inman is brought up throughout the book. “In her heart, though, she wondered, Is anything remembered forever?” (196). This constant upbringing of the power of human memory and the past lead me to my development of the theme, the power of memory.
            Other than the story line, the formatting helped me come to understand the author’s purpose for writing Cold Mountain as well. The format of the book is in chapters, but the chapters switch back and forth from Inman’s perspective to Ada’s perspective and really gives you a feel for the story. One thing I found particularly interesting about the format of Cold Mountain is the way dialogue is presented. Instead of using quotations, Frazier does as follows:
                “—Make me up a tune then, she said
 –I don’t know no more, Stobrod said.
– That’s pitiful, the girl said. What kind of fiddler are you?
–Bum and shoddy, he said” (231).
The burned girl asking Stobrod to play another tune for her.

This odd setup of dialogue led me to develop my idea for Frazier purpose: to tell a story. It’s almost as someone is reading to you as you read the novel. It was an odd thing that I had never seen before, but I liked it because it added to the story-time esque feel.
            I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The only complaint I would have about the book was the boringness that sometimes prevailed over the storyline. Often times the exposition to a new chapter or simply an uneventful part in the story were painfully dull.This constant over-depiction made some parts of the book unbearable; I could barely get through them. Not particularly criticism, normally I am a fast reader and this book took me a very long time to read mostly due to the tiresome over-depiction certain scenes. Normally I could read a book this size in less than a week. But it took me over two weeks to read. Besides this criticism, I really did enjoy Cold Mountain simply because I connected well with the theme and I appreciated the author’s purpose, being a teen who loves to read.
            Cold Mountain written by Charles Frazier depicts how powerful the human memory is and the effects it can have on a person. This theme, memory, is one many readers can connect to which is what helps make Cold Mountain so successful. Besides the theme, Frazier’s dedication to and purpose for writing Cold Mountain is inspirational.  His work in researching about the Civil War and his instillation of his family history was amazing and something that led me to like the book even more. Cold Mountain was overall a fascinating read and taught me a lot about myself. 

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