Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cold Mountain

Anyone out there seen Cold Mountain? I love the movie. Back when I was a beach dweller here in San Diego I used to take walks down to the Blockbuster on Mission Ave. and purchase old VHS tapes they kept outside on a table for 2$. Lucky for me they were purging their supply back when I lived there. I have some gems on VHS (and a good thing I still own a VHS player!) (including Cold Mountain)

I tutor at the library and happened upon the Friends of the Library collection near the front door. What a deal! People donate paperback novels- everything from Garrison Keillor to Phillip Roth and Dan Brown....and Cold Mountain. Whatever is on the shelf is fair game for 50 cents. Yes, that's 50 cents. What a deal. For this reason I have my own copy of Cold Mountain. (I also own books I would never buy at the store price: Kite Runner, Memoirs of a Geisha, Devil Wears Prada, two Keillor novels, and Schindler's list just to name a few). If you've never checked out your local library for the cheap paperback (used) books then I would go take a look. I've never had such cheap, yet quality entertainment. In this case that is definitely not an oxymoron.

I digress but I return to the purpose of this post. Cold Mountain. What a powerful novel. Superficially it is a touching romance. The movie emphasizes the romance and the scenery. There is a bit of information about the war but really not much more than what you might learn from Gone with the Wind. The Civil War was initially portrayed as a romantic, exciting and noble cause for the good of the south. So different from what it ended up becoming at the end of the war- a blood bath of meaningless massacre and heartrenching horror. As also shown in Gone with the Wind many southerners became scavengers and hunters as their currency lost value and people's possessions were diminished by poverty and raids by home guard and invading soldiers.

Cold Mountain goes into a bit more detail than other civil war books about specifics of battles and cultural implications of melding the north with the south. I wonder how accurate some of the information really is. For example, one of the concerns of the southerners was that they would have to acquire an odd holiday from the north called Thanksgiving. Imagine dedicating one entire day just to giving thanks- I mean really, what a silly idea. Hard to believe this was a mockery amongst gentry of the south during the civil war.

The author is a genius in flashback techniques. The story is mostly told in retrospect as stories within the main story. Inman (the main male character) has been badly injured in battle and deserted his recovery process in an army hospital. In the chapters that focus on him he is wandering through the wilderness trying to find his way back to Cold Mountain. On the way he meets many different types of folks, some helpful and some hurtful. He also recounts his relationship before the war with Ada Monroe on Cold Mountain- the woman he is hoping to meet again alive in Cold Mountain.

While Inman wanders in the wilderness the chapters intersperse themselves with the account of Ada Monroe back in Cold Mountain. At the beginning Ada is a half-starved, desperate and abandoned daughter of a missionary father. His death left her near penniless and without skills to survive on their farm at Black Cove on Cold Mountain. Slowly, however, through the help of neighbors and a crass, abandoned uneducated farm hand named Ruby she gains a knowledge of growing her own food, tending livestock, and growing into self-sufficiency on her farm. Previous to this experience her skills were nothing that could actually be rendered useful: arranging cut flowers, playing the piano, reading novels.

All this survival on both sides is for one goal: reuniting the love between Ada and Inman. Slowly in the evolution of Inman's wandering and Ada's increased self-sufficiency we learn of a long-lost love discovered during a different time. A time before the war when gentleman existed in the south and integrity and honor reigned in the grand old south.

The scenery throughout the entire book is extremely touching. I really want to go to North Carolina to see Cold Mountain in real life. Apparently it is a real place.

I am enthralled by the writing and the plotline. The author draws us into a rather unusual romance between an ordinary farm boy and a woman of social standing. Then, we are drawn even more into the forces that pull them back together after they are separated. Inman nearly dies several times during his journey back and each time he scrapes by it seems that his desire to see and reunite with Ada drives his will and wit to pull through. It is love that truly saves the day in the end. Inman survives and arrives back home.

I won't reveal the rest of the ending. It is fascinating. I recommend a read of the book.