Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hope and Despair

I began an interest in the American Civil War a few months ago when my husband bought a copy of Ken Burns' documentary, The Civil War, at our local ABC shop. The Civil War is an amazing documentary series and watching it helped me to fill some of the embarrassingly huge gaps in my knowledge about the war (it is not generally studied in Australian schools). As seems to often happen when you start thinking about something, afterwards the Civil War began coming up in all sorts of places, including in the fiction I read. I started reading Geraldine Brooks' March but found it flat and uninteresting and gave up half way through. Around the same time a friend recommended Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and I was lucky enough to find it in a second hand book store.

I'm about two thirds of the way through Cold Mountain now. It's the kind of book that you hope will never end, it's so full of beautiful images and intense emotion. The novel alternates between the story of Inman, a soldier who has deserted and is making the long journey back to his mountain home by foot, and Ada, who must survive at home on her father's farm. In an early chapter Frazier beautifully captures the faint but desperate hope that Inman has of ever returning home or of escaping the despair he feels as a result of his war experiences:

He thought on homeland, the big timber, the air thin and chill all year long. Tulip poplars so big through the trunk they put you in mind of locomotives set on end. He thought of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the nighthawks passing across the clouds in autumn could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears. And if Ada would go with him, there might be 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.

But even though he believed truly that you can think on a thing till it comes real, this last thought never shaped up so, no matter how hard he tried. What hope he had was no brighter than if someone had lit a taper at the mountain's top and left him far away to try setting a course by it.


brandon said...

I've always wanted to read "Cold Mountain," but every time I think seriously about picking it up, I decide I'm not in the mood.

missv said...

Cold Mountain is one of those books I've just never got around to reading. However, your post is inspiring me to read it soon.

I read March a while ago and I can understand not finishing it although I think I liked it overall. It offered a strange mix of history and fiction.

jess said...

I can't recommend 'Cold Mountain' strongly enough to you both. I just finished it and was blown away. I'm currently trying to think of how I can possibly review a book I loved that much.

missv, I might give 'March' another go at another time. Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind...

yuyun nih said...

cold mountain is my thesis' novel. this book is very detail, it's historical, and a good one. live free or die hard!