Charles Frazier won the National Book Award for Cold Mountain, his Civil war novel about a Confederate deserter and the woman waiting for his return.
Most of the book follows the two stories separately. Innman musters himself out of the army after he was injured in battle. Working his way home to Cold Mountain, he encounters Federal raiders terrorizing women and children, Home Guard vigilantes hunting deserters, remnants of families trying to survive the war, and a few misfits and eccentrics whose off-kilter lifestyles seem unaffected by the conflict. The damage inflicted on his soul and psyche as a result of these adventures is profound.
Playing Penelope to Innman’s Odysseus, Ada Monroe keeps the home fires burning back at her Cold Mountain farm. Left helpless by the death of her courtly father, Ada learns the value of hard work from her new companion, the no-nonsense Ruby. The story of the two women raising crops, making cider, trading for supplies, splitting firewood, and generally preparing for a long winter is deeply satisfying to anyone with a nesting instinct.
Both the characters and the themes are thorny, making the story one worth pondering. Frazier’s writing is graceful, even lyrical, and he has an ear for rural analogy that brings life to the setting. Part adventure story, part romance, and part moral treatise, Cold Mountain is an incredibly good book.
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This was one of my National Book Award choices for the 2011 Battle of the Prizes, American Version, challenge.