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  • Written by Charles Frazier
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Cold Mountain

Written by Charles FrazierAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Charles Frazier
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Read by Charles Frazier
On Sale: February 03, 2004
ISBN: 978-0-7393-1468-5
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One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain is a masterpiece that is at once an enthralling adventure, a stirring love story, and a luminous evocation of a vanished American in all its savagery, solitude, and splendor.

Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, Inman, a Confederate soldier, decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and to Ada, the woman he loved there years before. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, Ada is trying to revive her father's derelict farm and learn to survive in a world where the old certainties have been swept away. As it interweaves their stories, Cold Mountain asserts itself as an authentic American Odyssey--hugely powerful, majestically lovely, and keenly moving.

From the Trade Paperback edition.


the shadow of a crow

At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman's eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward. He flapped the flies away with his hands and looked across the foot of his bed to an open triple-hung window. Ordinarily he could see to the red road and the oak tree and the low brick wall. And beyond them to a sweep of fields and flat piney woods that stretched to the western horizon. The view was a long one for the flatlands, the hospital having been built on the only swell within eyeshot. But it was too early yet for a vista. The window might as well have been painted grey.

Had it not been too dim, Inman would have read to pass the time until breakfast, for the book he was reading had the effect of settling his mind. But he had burned up the last of his own candles reading to bring sleep the night before, and lamp oil was too scarce to be striking the hospital's lights for mere diversion. So he rose and dressed and sat in a ladderback chair, putting the gloomy room of beds and their broken occupants behind him. He flapped again at the flies and looked out the window at the first smear of foggy dawn and waited for the world to begin shaping up outside.

The window was tall as a door, and he had imagined many times that it would open onto some other place and let him walk through and be there. During his first weeks in the hospital, he had been hardly able to move his head, and all that kept his mind occupied had been watching out the window and picturing the old green places he recollected from home. Childhood places. The damp creek bank where Indian pipes grew. The corner of a meadow favored by brown-and-black caterpillars in the fall. A hickory limb that overhung the lane, and from which he often watched his father driving cows down to the barn at dusk. They would pass underneath him, and then he would close his eyes and listen as the cupping sound of their hooves in the dirt grew fainter and fainter until it vanished into the calls of katydids and peepers. The window apparently wanted only to take his thoughts back. Which was fine with him, for he had seen the metal face of the age and had been so stunned by it that when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or had willingly fled.

By now he had stared at the window all through a late summer so hot and wet that the air both day and night felt like breathing through a dishrag, so damp it caused fresh sheets to sour under him and tiny black mushrooms to grow overnight from the limp pages of the book on his bedside table. Inman suspected that after such long examination, the grey window had finally said about all it had to say. That morning, though, it surprised him, for it brought to mind a lost memory of sitting in school, a similar tall window beside him framing a scene of pastures and low green ridges terracing up to the vast hump of Cold Mountain. It was September. The hayfield beyond the beaten dirt of the school playground stood pant-waist high, and the heads of grasses were turning yellow from need of cutting. The teacher was a round little man, hairless and pink of face. He owned but one rusty black suit of clothes and a pair of old overlarge dress boots that curled up at the toes and were so worn down that the heels were wedgelike. He stood at the front of the room rocking on the points. He talked at length through the morning about history, teaching the older students of grand wars fought in ancient England.

After a time of actively not listening, the young Inman had taken his hat from under the desk and held it by its brim. He flipped his wrist, and the hat skimmed out the window and caught an updraft and soared. It landed far out across the playground at the edge of the hayfield and rested there black as the shadow of a crow squatted on the ground. The teacher saw what Inman had done and told him to go get it and to come back and take his whipping. The man had a big paddleboard with holes augered in it, and he liked to use it. Inman never did know what seized him at that moment, but he stepped out the door and set the hat on his head at a dapper rake and walked away, never to return.

The memory passed on as the light from the window rose toward day. The man in the bed next to Inman's sat and drew his crutches to him. As he did every morning, the man went to the window and spit repeatedly and with great effort until his clogged lungs were clear. He ran a comb through his black hair, which hung lank below his jaw and was cut square around. He tucked the long front pieces of hair behind his ears and put on his spectacles of smoked glass, which he wore even in the dim of morning, his eyes apparently too weak for the warmest form of light. Then, still in his nightshirt, he went to his table and began working at a pile of papers. He seldom spoke more than a word or two at a time, and Inman had learned little more of him than that his name was Balis and that before the war he had been to school at Chapel Hill, where he had attempted to master Greek. All his waking time was now spent trying to render ancient scribble from a fat little book into plain writing anyone could read. He sat hunched at his table with his face inches from his work and squirmed in his chair, looking to find a comfortable position for his leg. His right foot had been taken off by grape at Cold Harbor, and the stub seemed not to want to heal and had rotted inch by inch from the ankle up. His amputations had now proceeded past the knee, and he smelled all the time like last year's ham.

For a while there was only the sound of Balis's pen scratching, pages turning. Then others in the room began to stir and cough, a few to moan. Eventually the light swelled so that all the lines of the varnished beadboard walls stood clear, and Inman could cock back on the chair's hind legs and count the flies on the ceiling. He made it to be sixty-three.

As Inman's view through the window solidified, the dark trunks of the oak trees showed themselves first, then the patchy lawn, and finally the red road. He was waiting for the blind man to come. He had attended to the man's movements for some weeks, and now that he had healed enough to be numbered among the walking, Inman was determined to go out to the cart and speak to the man, for Inman figured him to have been living with a wound for a long time.

Inman had taken his own during the fighting outside Petersburg. When his two nearest companions pulled away his clothes and looked at his neck, they had said him a solemn farewell in expectation of his death. We'll meet again in a better world, they said. But he lived as far as the field hospital, and there the doctors had taken a similar attitude. He was classed among the dying and put aside on a cot to do so. But he failed at it. After two days, space being short, they sent him on to a regular hospital in his own state. All through the mess of the field hospital and the long grim train ride south in a boxcar filled with wounded, he had agreed with his friends and the doctors. He thought he would die. About all he could remember of the trip was the heat and the odors of blood and of shit, for many of the wounded had the flux. Those with the strength to do so had knocked holes in the sides of the wood boxcars with the butts of rifles and rode with their heads thrust out like crated poultry to catch the breeze.

At the hospital, the doctors looked at him and said there was not much they could do. He might live or he might not. They gave him but a grey rag and a little basin to clean his own wound. Those first few days, when he broke consciousness enough to do it, he wiped at his neck with the rag until the water in the basin was the color of the comb on a turkey-cock. But mainly the wound had wanted to clean itself. Before it started scabbing, it spit out a number of things: a collar button and a piece of wool collar from the shirt he had been wearing when he was hit, a shard of soft grey metal as big as a quarter dollar piece, and, unaccountably, something that closely resembled a peach pit. That last he set on the nightstand and studied for some days. He could never settle his mind on whether it was a part of him or not. He finally threw it out the window but then had troubling dreams that it had taken root and grown, like Jack's bean, into something monstrous.

His neck had eventually decided to heal. But during the weeks when he could neither turn his head nor hold up a book to read, Inman had lain every day watching the blind man. The man would arrive alone shortly after dawn, pushing his cart up the road, doing it about as well as any man who could see. He would set up his business under an oak tree across the road, lighting a fire in a ring of stones and boiling peanuts over it in an iron pot. He would sit all day on a stool with his back to the brick wall, selling peanuts and newspapers to those at the hospital whole enough to walk. Unless someone came to buy something, he rested as still as a stuffed man with his hands together in his lap.

That summer, Inman had viewed the world as if it were a picture framed by the molding around the window. Long stretches of time often passed when, for all the change in the scene, it might as well have been an old painting of a road, a wall, a tree, a cart, a blind man. Inman had sometimes counted off slow numbers in his head to see how long it would be before anything of significance altered. It was a game and he had rules for it. A bird flying by did not count. Someone walking down the road did. Major weather changes did-the sun coming out, fresh rain-but shadows of passing clouds did not. Some days he'd get up in the thousands before there was any allowable alteration in the elements of the picture. He believed the scene would never leave his mind-wall, blind man, tree, cart, road-no matter how far on he lived. He imagined himself an old man thinking about it. Those pieces together seemed to offer some meaning, though he did not know what and suspected he never would.

Inman watched the window as he ate his breakfast of boiled oats and butter, and shortly he saw the blind man come trudging up the road, his back humped against the weight of the cart he pushed, little twin clouds of dust rising from beneath the turning cartwheels. When the blind man had his fire going and his peanuts boiling, Inman put his plate on the windowsill and went outside and with the shuffling step of an old man crossed the lawn to the road.

The blind man was square and solid in shoulder and hip, and his britches were cinched at the waist with a great leather belt, wide as a razor strop. He went hatless, even in the heat, and his cropped hair was thick and grey, coarse-textured as the bristles to a hemp brush. He sat with his head tipped down and appeared to be somewhat in a muse, but he raised up as Inman approached, like he was really looking. His eyelids, though, were dead as shoe leather and were sunken into puckered cups where his eyeballs had been.

Without pausing even for salutation Inman said, Who put out your pair of eyes?

The blind man had a friendly smile on his face and he said, Nobody. I never had any.

That took Inman aback, for his imagination had worked in the belief that they had been plucked out in some desperate and bloody dispute, some brute fraction. Every vile deed he had witnessed lately had been at the hand of a human agent, so he had about forgot that there was a whole other order of misfortune.

-Why did you never have any? Inman said.

-Just happened that way.

-Well, Inman said. You're mighty calm. Especially for a man that most would say has taken the little end of the horn all his life.

The blind man said, It might have been worse had I ever been given a glimpse of the world and then lost it.

-Maybe, Inman said. Though what would you pay right now to have your eyeballs back for ten minutes? Plenty, I bet.

The man studied on the question. He worked his tongue around the corner of his mouth. He said, I'd not give an Indianhead cent. I fear it might turn me hateful.

-It's done it to me, Inman said. There's plenty I wish I'd never seen.

-That's not the way I meant it. You said ten minutes. It's having a thing and the loss I'm talking about.

The blind man twisted a square of newsprint up into a cone and then dipped with a riddly spoon into the pot and filled the cone with wet peanuts. He handed it to Inman and said, Come on, cite me one instance where you wished you were blind.

Where to begin? Inman wondered. Malvern Hill. Sharpsburg. Petersburg. Any would do admirably as example of unwelcome visions. But Fredericksburg was a day particularly lodged in his mind. So he sat with his back to the oak and halved the wet peanut shells and thumbed the meats out into his mouth and told the blind man his tale, beginning with how the fog had lifted that morning to reveal a vast army marching uphill toward a stone wall, a sunken road. Inman's regiment was called to join the men already behind the wall, and they had quickly formed up alongside the big white house at the top of Maryes Heights. Lee and Longstreet and befeathered Stuart stood right there on the lawn before the porch, taking turns glassing the far side of the river and talking. Longstreet had a grey shawl of wool draped about his shoulders. Compared to the other two men, Longstreet looked like a stout hog drover. But from what Inman had seen of Lee's way of thinking, he'd any day rather have Longstreet backing him in a fight. Dull as Longstreet looked, he had a mind that constantly sought ground configured so a man could hunker down and do a world of killing from a position of relative safety. And that day at Fredericksburg was all in the form of fighting that Lee mistrusted and that Longstreet welcomed.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Charles Frazier|Author Q&A

About Charles Frazier

Charles Frazier - Cold Mountain

Photo © © Greg Martin

Charles Frazier grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. Cold Mountain, his highly acclaimed first novel, was an international bestseller, and won the National Book Award in 1997.

Author Q&A

Q: It seems almost incredible that Cold Mountain is your first novel. Have you ever tried writing fiction before--short stories, or incomplete unpublished novels?

A: Like a lot of people, I tried to write some fiction when I was in my twenties--college age, just after that. It didn't work out so well. I wasn't happy with what I did; it was sort of pretentious and technically pretty weak. So I put that idea away and decided that I was going to be an academic and that I would study other people's writing rather than write myself. But when I got to be forty, I started wanting to write again for some reason, and found when I began doing it that what I was doing was very different from what I had done when I was twenty-five. I liked it better and was happier doing it, and it seemed to me to be worth doing, suddenly. I think as you get older you get a sense of what is important in life and what is significant enough to write about.

Q: Turning to Cold Mountain: Who was the original Inman?

A: 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. He was in Virginia and was in many battles in key positions. But I knew so little about him. 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.

Q: Was there something particular about his story, that struck you as especially dramatic?

A: The thing that interested me most--and I think that caught my imagination when my father told me this story--was his walk home, away from the war, toward home and the mountains of North Carolina. I thought about what he was getting away from and what he was walking toward. And that shaped the character and the whole direction of the novel.

Q: So which elements of his story in the book were real, and which did you invent?

A: Well, we knew so little. The story my father told was a short paragraph, at most a few sentences, of facts--a kind of an outline of a fairly short life. I tried to fill that in with research from his war records and the state archives and came up with maybe that much more. So what I had to begin with was two paragraphs about this fella. What I knew was what kind of family he was from, when he went to the war, the battles he was in, when he was wounded, when he left the war and went home, and what happened to him when he got there. I tried to keep that bare outline as true to the facts of his life as I could make it. But what the absence of information allowed me to do was to make up a character and make a story, and that's what novelists need to do. So in some sense I'm happy that I didn't have more information, that Inman didn't keep a journal for me to draw from, that I had to make it up.

Q: What made you decide to base Inman's story on The Odyssey?

A: When my father told me the story of this ancestor, that was one of the first things I thought of--that there were certain parallels to The Odyssey that might be useful in trying to think of a way to tell this story. A warrior, weary of war, trying to get home and facing all kinds of impediments along the way, a woman at home beset by all kinds of problems of her own that are as compelling as his. So I reread The Odyssey--that was one of the first things I did when I really began working on the book. There was a certain temptation to write parallel scenes--to try to have a Cyclops scene, or whatever. But really quickly I decided that that would be pretty limiting and kind of artificial. So I just let The Odyssey stay in the back of my mind as a model of a warrior wanting to put that war behind him and get home.

Q: Did you see any parallels between the actual American Civil War and the Trojan War?

A: Not in particular. I was pretty suspicious of writing a Civil War novel. I didn't want to write a novel of the battles and the generals and those famous personalities. There have been a lot of books written about that--good ones and bad ones--and I didn't want to add to the bulk of that literature. But I realized that there are two kinds of books about a war: there's an Iliad, about fighting the war, and about the battles and generals, and there's an Odyssey, about a warrior who has decided that home and peace are the things he wants. Once I decided that I was writing an Odyssey kind of book instead of an Iliad kind of book, I could move forward with it with some sense of happiness.

Q: What characteristics did you give Inman to make him resemble Odysseus?

A: Well, that desire for home is certainly the core of it. There are wonderful passages in The Odyssey where Odysseus just sort of drifts into prayer--these monologues that express his deepest desires. And I looked at those pretty carefully to discover what this character wants, what it is he's afraid of and running from, and what it is he's running toward. Those things helped me considerably.

Q: The style of Cold Mountain is rather unconventional, not quite like that of any other book. Why did you decide to use this unusual rhythm and timbre?

A: I was interested in several things in the language of the book. One was: I was creating this historical, fictional world, and I wanted the language of the book to create a sense of otherness, of another world, one that the reader doesn't entirely know. It occupies many of the same geographical points as our current world, but is in a lot of ways very different. I wanted the language to signal that. So one thing I used to help with that was words for tools and processes and kitchen implements that are almost lost words. Ugly, old words like piggin and spurtle and keeler, which are all kitchen implements. Those kinds of words would signal to a reader that it's a different material world, a different physical world from ours. The other thing I was interested in, since I was writing a lot about the southern Appalachians, was getting a sense of the particular use of language in that region, the rhythm of it. I didn't want to resort to spelling liquor "l-i-k-k-e-r" or something like that. I wanted the music of that language more than just oddities of spelling and pronunciation. So I thought about the way old people talked when I was a kid, who had that authentic Appalachian accent, and realized that it was more a music, a rhythm, than anything else in my ear, and there were days that I could hear that--a voice, a pattern of voice, somewhat like, say, Bill Monroe's when he was talking rather than singing, that has a very musical quality to it. When I could hear that in my ear, I was sure I was going to have a good day of writing.

Q: You must have done extensive research into the habits and routines of agriculture and farm life during the nineteenth century. How did you research this?

A: There are a couple of ways: the first thing was just memory. When I was growing up in the fifties and early sixties, there were still farms in the southern mountains that ran in that old nineteenth-century way. They maybe had electricity, but all the processes of farming were pretty much pre-twentieth century. That is, they didn't have tractors, they plowed with mules, everything was done with animal power, lots of arms, with no powered equipment whatsoever. So it was an exercise in memory to try to recover the look of a farm like that, the rhythm of a day at a farm like that, the quiet of a place like that without the roar of an engine going on all the time. The parts that I couldn't remember from my childhood experience--the details--I filled in with library research. A lot of old journals and letters and things like that--where people would be talking about what their plans for the farm were--were very helpful, and then more academic kinds of research on nineteenth-century agricultural practices.

Q: Some might see library research as the least interesting part. How did you find it?

A: In many ways it's my favorite part of working on a book. I love to spend the day in the library with a handful of questions that I need answered. To be able to fill out this fictional world I'm trying to create. I always go in with five or six questions, but the things I actually find end up being much more interesting than the things that I went to find. The kinds of things I enjoy the most and that were the most helpful in writing the book were things like letters and journals of women of the nineteenth century. And I think they helped me a great deal in developing female characters that maybe are a little different from most people's stereotypical views of what women were like then. I found journals and letters of women who were very intelligent, headstrong, opinionated, strong women. One of the things I remember is a group of wealthy young women who had gone to a prep school in Charleston. They agreed when they graduated that they would have a reunion ten years later, but they decided that only the unmarried women could come to the reunion, because the married ones would by definition be boring. And I'm not sure that that is our view of nineteenth-century Southern womanhood. I was very interested in reading letters to their husbands from women who'd been left at home to handle the family farm. To follow those letters over the course of the war, to feel those women getting stronger, more confident--they had begun the war asking their husbands' permission for every decision that needed to be made. By about half way through the war, those same women were informing their husbands that decisions had been made. So it was a kind of process of self-mastery that I think is always a very helpful thing to observe.

Q: Music plays a very large role in the book. Why is that?

A: One of the things that music does is sum up a culture in some very concrete way. That old time fiddle music--string-band music of the southern Appalachians that's kind of an extension of Scottish and Irish and British folk music--gave me access into that old culture and into that other time that seemed very direct. I began collecting this music when I first started working on the book, and when I could find something that would be, say, an old man in 1920 recording an old ballad or banjo tune or whatever, I felt like I was getting about as direct access to a piece of that old southern Appalachian culture of the nineteenth century as I was going to get.

Q: Were you able to find old recordings that actually gave you a sense of the music of the Civil War era?

A: Yeah, that kind of music is more and more accessible. There are some wonderful re-issues. Small recording companies have done a wonderful job of keeping that music alive. And in many cases this stuff may exist only on one or two scratchy old records. To have those things preserved on CD is wonderful.

Q: There are very few people that write about nature as masterfully as you do. Are there any you particularly admire?

A: Well, there are lots. William Bartram was one of the great nature writers of the early years of this country. He did a lot of traveling in the Southeast, through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and wrote these beautiful, ecstatic descriptions of the very untouched world in the late 1700s. And he found his way into the book--Inman reads, takes with him on his journey, a copy of Bartram's travels and reads them as a kind of tonic when he's feeling depressed or can't sleep or whatever. Some of the best nature writing I know of is in fiction. Melville, for example, wrote wonderful descriptions of the sea and sea life and that kind of thing. Tolstoy and Turgenev wrote wonderful descriptions of nature and had very close observational eyes. Hemingway in this century--a story like "Big Two-Hearted River" has in it some of the best nature writing I know of anywhere. And of writers who are working now, a writer like Barry Lopez is probably the best going in this regard. Or a fiction writer like Jim Harrison who has a very keen eye for the natural world. Those are all great writers that I read frequently and with great pleasure.

Q: What views of the war and of politics do you feel the novel puts across?

A: I tried not to think about that too much when I was working on the book. I was interested in why a man like Inman went to this war--why he volunteered. "It wasn't his fight," was my first thought on it--he didn't own slaves and very few people he would have known did. Only about seven or eight percent of people in the southern mountains owned slaves. I think that he, and people like him, were fighting because they thought they we repelling an invasion of their homeland. But what I began to think about the politics of that war was that is was two economic systems--you had this slaveagricultural system in the South and a growing industrial capitalist system in the North, and then you had people like Inman who lived in an older economic system, kind of like subsistence farming. You had people like that in the North and South, and one of the tragedies of the war to me was that those people got caught up, caught in the crossfire of this war. Many of them died fighting somebody else's battle.

Q: Did your research on the Civil War period change your ideas on these subjects?

A: It did in some senses. I remember early on in writing the book, going for a walk in the mountains and coming upon a grave--it was actually two graves, side by side--in this lonesome hillside, five miles from the nearest road. I found out later that it was an old man and a boy who had been killed by federal raiders who had come over the mountains from Tennessee looking for food. They killed these two guys that were just going about their business. Near there is another double grave with a fiddler and a boy in it who were killed by Southern Home Guard in much the same way. Looking at those two graves, and seeing these people who were essentially farmers, caught in that crossfire and killed in this utterly pointless way--I think did shape some of my feeling toward the war.

From the Trade Paperback edition.



"Cold Mountain is a heartbreakingly beautiful story, elegantly told and utterly convincing down to the last haunting detail."—John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"This novel is so magnificent — in every conceivable aspect, and others previously unimagined — that it has occurred to me that the shadow of this book, and the joy I received in reading it, will fall over every other book I have ever read."—Rick Bass

"Lush, poetic, moving and artfully exciting—A heightened, thrilling love story—Perhaps the most eloquent writing about the awful drudgery and desperation of the Civil War since Thomas Keneally's Confederates—A great read."—John Doyle, The Globe and Mail

"Charles Frazier has taken on a daunting task — and has done extraordinarily well by it.... In prose filled with grace notes and trenchant asides, he has reset much of the Odyssey in 19-century America, near the end of the Civil War.... A Whitmanesque foray into America; into its hugeness, its freshness, its scope and its soul—Such a memorable book."—The New York Times Book Review

"A page-turner that attains the status of literature—Natural-born storytellers come along only rarely. Charles Frazier joins the ranks of that elite cadre on the first page of his astonishing debut."—Newsweek

"A rare and extraordinary book—Heart-stopping—Spellbinding."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A great read — a stirring Civil War tale told with...epic sweep...loaded with vivid historical detail."—People

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. We hope they will provide new insights and ways of looking at this stunning novel.

About the Guide

The Civil War is wearily entering its last, grisly year. Inman, a veteran of the Petersburg and Fredericksburg campaigns, recovering from his wounds in a Confederate hospital, decides he has had enough of the pointless slaughter and walks out, heading across the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina toward Cold Mountain, where he hopes to reclaim his spiritual homeland and Ada, the woman he loves. It is to be an unforgettable odyssey through the soon-to-be-defeated South, with Inman pursued by relentless Home Guard troops whose task it is to hunt out deserters. Interwoven with Inman's heart-stopping adventures is the story of Ada's own internal journey. A genteel intellectual, Ada has been sheltered by her clergyman father from the hard necessities of life. Now, orphaned and impoverished, she must confront the physical world for the first time as she struggles to make her rundown farm self-sufficient. With the help of Ruby, a tough, brave young woman, she comes to terms with the forces of nature and, in the process, with her own soul. As Ada and Inman's lives, long-separated, begin finally to converge, they discover unsuspected truths about themselves and each other, and about the new world that is being born from the ruins of the old.

Charles Frazier writes about his native territory with the eye of a lifelong countryman and the voice of a poet. Cold Mountain is a saga of discovery, terror, and knowledge that is epic in its passion and mythic in scope.

About the Author

Charles Frazier grew up near Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina. The son of a high school principal, he received a Ph.D. in English literature and was teaching literature part-time when he became interested in the history of W. P. Inman, his great-great-uncle, whose Civil War journey back to his mountain home became the inspiration for Cold Mountain.

Charles Frazier lives with his wife and daughter outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Cold Mountain, Frazier's first novel, won the National Book Award.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Discussion Guides

1. How would you describe the style, or the voice, in which Charles Frazier tells his story? Do you find it realistic or stylized? What does it add to the overall effect of the story?

2. Charles Frazier seems to imply that, because of the moral barrenness of the Civil War and the crimes committed on the battlefield in the name of honor, there is no moral onus attached to the act of desertion? Do you agree with him? Why has Frazier chosen to portray the deserters as good, the Home Guard as evil?

3. How have Inman's views on secession, slavery, and war changed by the time he finds himself in the military hospital? What has he come to believe of both sides, the Federals and the Confederates, their leaders, and their motivations for fighting? Is he being overly cynical? How does the fighting and the level of blind violence in the Civil War compare with other, more recent wars?

4. Inman remembers a conversation he had with a boy he met after the battle of Fredericksburg, when he pointed out Orion's principal star. The boy replied, "That's just a name we give it. . . . It ain't God's name." We can never know God's name for things, the boy continues; "It's a lesson that sometimes we're meant to settle for ignorance" [p. 117]. How does this statement correspond with the lessons learned by Ada and Ruby? What point does Cold Mountain make about the nature and limitations of human knowledge?

5. Inman has little use for conventional religion, but he liked one sermon of Monroe's: "That which shows God in me, fortifies me. That which shows God out of me, makes me a wart and a wen. There is no longer a necessary reason for my being. Already the long shadows of untimely oblivion creep over me, and I shall decrease forever" [p. 77]. What notion of "God" does this quotation endorse? What about the voice that spoke to Ruby when, as a child, she was in despair: Was this God's voice, and if so, in what does God consist? What do you conclude Frazier's ideas to be, and how do they differ from conventional Christianity?

6. How, finally, does Frazier portray the natural world: as benign, treacherous, cruel, or indifferent? Famous contemporaries of Inman and Ada--thinkers like Darwin, Wordsworth, and Emerson--were expressing new ideas, in poetry and prose, about nature. How do these ideas influence Monroe's thinking? "Monroe had commented that, like all elements of nature, the features of this magnificent topography were simply tokens of some other world, some deeper life with a whole other existence toward which we ought aim all our yearning" [p. 144]. What very different conclusions does Ada come to? How do Inman and Ruby view the natural world?

7. Remembering his friend Swimmer, Inman reflects that Swimmer's spells "portrayed the spirit as a frail thing, constantly under attack and in need of strength, always threatening to die inside you. Inman found this notion dismal indeed, since he had been taught by sermon and hymn to hold as truth that the soul of man never dies" [p. 20]. Which version of the soul seems to be borne out during the course of the book? Does Inman come to change his ideas during his journey?

8. Throughout Cold Mountain, the author works with the idea of the search for the soul. Inman, Ada, Ruby, Stobrod, Veasey, and the slaveholder's runaway son Odell are all in some way engaged upon this search. Which of them is, in the end, successful, and why?

9. Both Ada and Inman reflect, at different times, that they are living in a "new world" [p. 33]. . . . What changes is nineteenth-century America undergoing, and how do Ada and Inman's experiences, and the people they meet, reflect those changes? How, and why, is the ideal of womanhood changing?

10. Both Ada and Ruby were motherless children from the time they were born. How has that state affected their characters and formed their ideas? How has it molded their relationships with their fathers? Do both women reconcile themselves to their fathers in the end, and if so, why?

11. Was Monroe, overall, a good father to Ada? In what ways did he fail her, and in what ways did he contribute to her strength of character? In what ways did he deceive himself?

12. Several of Cold Mountain's characters meet their death during the course of the novel. How do these characters' deaths reflect, or redeem, their lives? What points are made by the particular deaths of Veasey, Ada's suitor Blount, Pangle, Monroe, and others?

13. Stobrod claims not to be Ruby's true father; his wife, he says, was impregnated by a heron. What other mythical or animistic images does the book offer, and what is their purpose? How does Frazier view, and treat, the supernatural?

14. What is the significance of the Cherokee woman's story about the Shining Rocks? What does it mean to Inman, and why is Ada skeptical? What does her reaction tell us about her character?

15. Charles Frazier has based his novel loosely on Homer's Odyssey. If you are familiar with The Odyssey, which incidents from it do you find reproduced in Cold Mountain, and how has Frazier reimagined them? Why do you think he might have chosen this structure for a Civil War novel? What similarities do the two works have in the way they deal with war? With love and marriage? With fidelity? With home? With spiritual growth? How is Inman like Odysseus?

  • Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  • February 03, 2004
  • Fiction
  • Random House Audio
  • $22.95
  • 9780739314685

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