Bowdoin Reads

Professor Van Vleet is reading...

Cold Mountain
by Charles Frazier

I picked up Cold Mountain a few weeks ago as a partial antidote to the nonfiction that I read for research and teaching and the children's literature I read with my daughters. Charles Frazier, the author, writes with beautifully detailed prose evoking the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At one level the book tells an “adventure” story of Inman, a Confederate solider, who deserts the army after being wounded at Petersburg and who attempts to find his way home to Cold Mountain and to Ada, the woman he loves. His memories of Ada sustain him as he walks hundreds of miles through war-torn wilderness, meeting individuals who attempt to kill him, simply hinder him, or occasionally, help him. The chapters alternate between the point of view ofInman or Ada, allowing the reader glimpses into life in the rural south of 1864, the various episodes of the characters lives, and the ways that they remember and reframe those events. Ada, who moved from Charleston to a farm near Cold Mountain only a few years before the outbreak of war, is bereft and almost completely unsure of how to provide for herself when her father dies. She revives the derelict farm, gains self-assurance, and reframes rules of social interaction with the help of Ruby, a young woman who was all but abandoned as a child. The book is, at another level, about the significance of momentary interactions—a touch or look that may have gone unnoticed by one person but fills the mind of another; an encounter on a dark road that saves a life; the decision to pull the trigger of a gun. Although the Civil War is the backdrop, the novel does not delve explicitly into military events, race relations, or political relationships. Rather, the historical moment of transition—and the movement of characters from east to west, from conscription to freedom, from unfamiliar desolation to familiar yet untamed beauty—allows the author to portray characters who are damaged yet humam, disillusioned yet engaged in the dilemmas of transforming everyday survival into life worth living. Cold Mountain is Charles Frazier’s first novel; it won the National Book Award in 1997. [Also available on audiobook on the main floor of HL]

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