A sweeping and tumultuous story of an injured American Civil War soldier who goes AWOL and makes a relentless and dangerous journey back home to Cold Mountain, and to the woman he intends spending the rest of his life with. As poetic as Homer’s Odyssey, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain is an outstanding literary masterpiece. He tells the story of Inman and Ada, their past, people they meet on their travels, the challenges they face and the dreams they hold dear. A physical journey home and a journey of personal development, equally captivating, equally precarious and equally drawing the story to a climactic ending. With a magician’s hand, Frazier keeps us spellbound with the central story while conjuring wisps of literary tales from Greek, Roman and English literature and weaving them into the narrative with the effortless hand of an illusionist.
Frazier is never obvious with the content of his story, even though Odysseus’ journey back from Troy to his wife Penelope in Ithaca after the Trojan War reverberates throughout this novel. This is not about a modern retelling of the Odyssey but rather enticing us to explore deeper how the ancient folklore has been reshaped to provide a unique, clever and agonising alternative. Within the narrative, we catch faded echoes of exotic characters such as Witches, Sirens, Cyclopes, Calypso, Cerberus, Narcissus but their behaviour may or may not follow an expected path but it will always be imaginatively realised.
Inman battles elements of nature as he travels through the winter – cold, wet, hungry and sometimes disorientated. He is an honest man and often reflects “… the wrong a man does flies back at him.” As a soldier he has seen horrors and been part of those horrors, but he approaches every situation with a positive intent that fairness will be done. Sometimes kindness is repaid and sometimes it is manipulated. Regardless, Inman must face all his trials as he descends through the levels of hell – who knows maybe there are nine of them and Dante makes an appearance as well?
Ada is joined by Ruby as she now tries to make her farm operational following the death of her father. A lady of the leisure, Ada must now journey through the challenges of hard work, growing crops, raising livestock, fixing fences and trading for goods. Ruby is accomplished at this type of work and bluntly forces Ada to play her part in this endeavour. Ada now goes to bed tired and physically exhausted and her outward appearance changes to sun-drenched skin, rough-skinned hands and practical work clothes.
Frazier places nature as a constant reference point and uses it with distinguished ardour. Elements of birds and trees add deeper appreciation of the signs nature is constantly presenting to us. Nature with its mythical connections gives Frazier another wand to magically enthral us.
This was a first buddy read with Julie and it was a joy to take our time and discuss the links and decipher the meaning of various scenes. I am full of admiration for Charles Frazier after devouring his epic piece of work and I would highly recommend reading the book. Another addition to my Top 10 books of all time.