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Charles Frazier: Cold Mountain
The story is fairly simple. Frazier is not concerned about battles and strategy and the meeting of men in battle. Inman is a simple Confederate soldier who is wounded. One day he just walks away from the hospital and heads back home and back to his sweetheart, Ada. Most of the book is Inman’s journey back to Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, coupled with the story of Ada and how she survives, with only minimal help. Inman, of course, has to walk home and it is not a fun walk. He is attacked by various people and gets involved in various adventures (such as rescuing a woman about to be killed by a preacher who is the father of her child, though the preacher, Veasey, joins up with Inman, after the local town folk beat him up when they discover what he has done). Inman is essentially a decent man, in marked contrast to Veasey, who is ready to steal and commit other crimes. Eventually, Inman and Veasey are caught by the Home Guard and arrested. The guard decides to shoot all the prisoners but Inman manages to survive (Veasey does not). Eventually, of course, Inman gets back home and back to Ada, though, even then, his adventures are not over.
What has made this book so successful, both with critics and the reading public alike, is that it is the relatively simple story of a relatively simple man exposed to violence. The violence he faces is not the brutal and direct violence of war, but the violence of wartime, when no-one trusts any else and where virtually everyone seems to be looking out solely for his or her own interests, whether it is the ferry-girl who wants to save up to buy a saddle and then a horse to get away or Veasey, the crooked preacher. Inman himself does not rise above all this – he is exposed to the violence and has to use it – but despite what he has seen in the war, he manages to remain a decent person, doing, wherever possible, what is right. And, despite being a book about the Civil War and set in the Civil War, there is no movement of armies, no battles, no discussions about the rights and wrongs of secession or slavery, only a simple story of a simple man just trying to survive and get back home to the woman he loves.
First published 1997 by Atlantic Monthly Press