Ever since I saw the film, I knew that someday I’ll read this novel. For Inman’s epic journey, yes, but also because I just really love a good romance that is both serious and tragic and yet, something that has to come to pass because the hero or heroine wants that part of life too, no matter the ending.
Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain is a story about a soldier, Inman, who after recovering from his war wound, goes on a perilous journey home to be reunited with his love, Ada Monroe. It’s a beautifully written novel, full of description of America that may no longer exist today. Frazier painted a landscape that breathes life simply because the hero, Inman, chose to interact with any animal or person he met on his journey, never mind if sometimes, he regretted getting involved.
When he met the young widow of a soldier, Sara, in the chapter Bride bed full of blood (pg.305), Inman had some foreboding:
She would be old in five years from such a load, and recognizing this, Inman wished he had not set foot in this house, wished he had kept walking even if it meant falling by the wayside never to rise again. He saw with sorrow that hers was a life he could step into and keep working at hard from tonight till death. If he allowed himself to ponder it for a minute he saw all the world hanging over the girl like the deadfall to a trap, ready to drop and crush.
Another reason why I like this novel is because there’s something to be said about Inman’s resolve to see Ada. It is best described in this passage in page 85, from the Chapter Color of Despair:
And if Ada would go with him, there might be the hope, so far off in the distance he did not even really see it, that in time his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing.
I suppose any soldier who has had enough of war has the common sentiment of hoping for a new life with a girl he left behind. What makes Inman different is that he’s the deserter who deserves to go home exactly because of his despair about the war. There’s no bravery in killing, he might have realized. His stay at the hospital with other wounded men only reinforced his will to escape. So when he made his decision, there was no foolishness or recklessness about it. He had food, money to purchase more along the way, and his LeMat pistol for when he needs to fight.
Ada’s transformation from woman-child to self-sufficient farmer and huntress, with Ruby’s assistance, is also a big part of this novel. She is not just a woman who waits for her man to return. She did more than survive the war. Like Levin in Anna Karenina, she found contentment in doing farm work because it has afforded her to think of nothing. In a letter to her cousin Lucy in Charleston, she writes how she has changed:
I am brown as a penny from being outdoors all day, and I am growing somewhat ropy through the wrists and forearms. In the glass I see a somewhat firmer face than previously, hollower under the cheekbones. And a new expression, I think, has come to occupy it. Working in the fields, there are brief times when I go totally without thought. Not one idea crosses my mind, though my senses are alert to all around me.
Cold Mountain is the third main character here, large and looming, a refuge for some deserters. It’s also where Inman and Ada found each other for better and for worst. And to give it more reverence, Frazier made it a source of a legend about a hidden world in a cave located in the mountain and how it will open for people who seek some kind of redemption or happiness in the after life, provided that they fast for seven days. When Inman realized that Ada doesn’t recognize him anymore because of his war-weary appearance, for a second, he thought of searching for that cave in Cold Mountain so that he might find rest in the other world.
You can watch the movie or read the book, either is worth the time. There’s nothing hurried in the telling of the story here. Nothing is rushed and that’s good because the characters are allowed to go through what they must go through. A little more sleep to dream. A little more farm work to pass the time in peace. No two lovers are more separate in distance and time, but they made the most of it. And that’s the intention of the author here. He made Ada’s hardship match Inman’s despair so that when they meet again, there is more compassion and understanding in their love for each other.