A Swedish friend recommended I read Cold Mountain (..it should have been the other way around, right?).
Brief synopsis: The story takes place during the Civil War in North Carolina. Inman, a Confederate deserter, journeys on foot from the coast to his home in the mountains where his love interest, Ada, lives. Meanwhile, Ada is learning how to survive in a war-ravaged world.
When I first finished the novel, I had mixed feelings. I enjoyed isolated stories and themes, but actually reading through the novel felt a bit heavy because it’s so descriptive.
Within a couple days of finishing this novel, I realized how completely immersed I was in this world Frazier created; I could not escape it. This world, these characters completely consumed my thoughts. I reread the novel after watching the movie and fell in love with it – I appreciated the pace, let the imagery sink in, thought on the ideas…
What I absolutely love about this novel is Ada’s evolution when’s she’s forced from an easy, high society life to the harshness of merely surviving.
After her father died, a certain amount of resentment came upon her when she thought that a measure of applied knowledge in the area of food production and preparation would stand her in better stead at that particular time than any fine understanding in the principles of perspective in painting. All her life, though, her father had kept her back from the hardness of work.
Ruby helps Ada in this journey, and through her Frazier presents such a beautiful portrayal of living on the earth and with the earth – knowing the names and uses of the plants around you, knowing the stars and directions, appreciating the patterns of life, taking notice of how nature behaves..
The crops were growing well, largely Ruby claimed, because they had been planted, at her insistence, in strict accordance with the signs. In Ruby’s mind, everything – from setting fence posts, making sauerkraut, killing hogs – fell under the rule of the heavens. Cut firewood in the old of the moon, she’d advised, otherwise it won’t do much but fry and hiss at you come winter. Next April when the poplar leaves are about the size of a squirrel’s ear, we’ll plant corn when the signs are in the feet; otherwise the corn will just shank and hang down. November, we’ll kill a hog in the growing of the moon, for if we don’t the meat will lack grease and pork chops will cup up in the pan. Monroe would have dismissed such beliefs as superstition, folklore. But Ada, increasingly covetous of Ruby’s learning in the ways living things inhabited this particular place, chose to view the signs as metaphoric. They were, as Ada saw them, an expression of stewardship, a means of taking care, a discipline. They provided a ritual of concern for the patterns and tendencies of the material world where it might be seen to intersect with some other world. Ultimately, she decided the signs were a way of being alert, and under those terms she could honor them.
Here’s a book discussion from Diane Rehm: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2003-01-15/readers-review-charles-fraziers-cold-mountain
Also love the movie. My favorite scene takes place during a church service. The congregation is singing, “I’m Going Home” when news spreads that the war has broken out. Such a dramatic scene that perfectly captures the shock and stupid excitement for the war. The singing is absolutely stunning; it’s a tradition known as “shape note singing” or “sacred harp.” Here’s a clip of the actual choir first warming up then performing the tune featured in the movie:
Here’s a short interview with the author, Charles Frazier, giving a bit of historic and familial background for the novel:
If you haven’t read Cold Mountain, I highly recommend your doing so. Give it a chance to invite you into its world.