Cold Mountain (1997)

by Charles Frazier

An American retelling of The Odyssey, Cold Mountain is set in the Civil War South, and its wayfaring character is a Confederate soldier. The book opens with Inman (he is called by that single name throughout) in a hospital recovering from a near-fatal battlefield wound. He has been a soldier for four years and is weary of the horrors of war. One night he leaves the hospital and sets out on a trek back home to Cold Mountain, North Carolina, to Ada, a woman he loves but hardly knows.

Like Homer's hero, Inman on his journey encounters many challenges presented by nature and humans. Finding food is always a challenge. Self-appointed "Home Guards" are looking for and shooting "outliers" (deserters) like him, so Inman must travel inconspicuous paths. He encounters people who are weird and often dangerous, and he has to kill. He grows hardened and cynical and worries he's become unworthy of Ada.

Meanwhile, back in Cold Mountain, Ada is on a journey, too — from a young woman bred for reading and impractical pursuits to a capable farmer. She nearly starved after her father's death until a drifter named Ruby came along and helped her revive the farm and learn to survive on it. Ruby starts out as the opposite of Ada, caring only for what's useful. As Ada introduces her to books, however, their relationship becomes more of a give and take, and the two become fast friends.

Cold Mountain is usually described as a love story, but Ada and Inman hardly courted long enough to be deeply in love. It's more about the idea of love, or of another person, sustaining hope and the will to survive. Ada is all Inman has to keep him going. 

Frazier conceived this first novel from stories his family had passed down from his great-great-grandfather. It won the 1997 National Book Award and was a New York Times bestseller for 61 weeks. 

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