Monday, August 18, 2014

"Cold Mountain": A Contemporary Literary Gem

For those of you who are solely interested in wine, please skip ahead and read only the last section titled "For vinophiles."

I fell in love with the story of Ada and Inman from watching the film that was showing on the big screen during a flight from Australia to Thailand, back in my good ol' days as a boarding school pupil in 2003.  Yes, that was the twilight of large screen in-flight entertainment and the dawn of a new era, where personal mini screens are available to all passengers - even in coach/economy class.

A quick briefing of the storyline, for those of you who have never watched "Cold Mountain" before:

  • Based on a novel by the same name, written by Charles Frazier who was born in North Carolina
  • Set during the American Civil War
  • A tale of love and survival told from the perspectives of...
    • W. P. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier who is weary of the war and abandons his post to walk from the field hospital in Virginia to his hometown, Cold Mountain in North Carolina.
    • Ada Monroe, a southern lady who waits at the home front for the return of her enlisted beloved, Inman.
Whenever asked what my favourite film is, I never hesitate to give "Cold Mountain" as the answer.  Re-watching it over the years, the movie never fails to impress again and again.  The pantheon cast; Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger; bring to life, through their superb acting skills, the brutality of war, from the up-close shots that vividly portray the ferocity of battlefield mêlées to the bleakness of empty towns ravaged and attrited by years of conflict.  Contrast that all with the splendour of lush landscapes where tall mountain ranges dominate the horizon, and you get a grand setting for a love story.  

Despite the 11 years that have passed since first watching the film, I have never read the book.  This is due to the unavailability of this book in my native country (Thailand) and my host country (Switzerland).  Therefore, to receive it recently as a present from my wife was a delightful surprise, indeed.

About the book...
ISBN 978 0 340 93632 0
First published in 1997, but the edition I'm reading was published in 2011.

Compared to the storyline of the film, the book is quite different.  First off, its first scene is set in the field hospital where the injured Inman spends his time to recover from the bullet wound in his neck that he received at the Siege of Petersburg in the last remaining months of the war.

Charles Frazier wrote this work with his literary artistry in full display.  The words the author used to describe the thoughts of characters, are so striking that you as the reader feel like you are there in that event and are experiencing the exact emotions that the characters are feeling.   Besides first-person narration, flashbacks, foreshadowing, the author's use of other literary devices such as pathetic fallacy and the occasional instances of alliteration help the audience gain insight into the characters' perceptions of their duresses and struggles.  Through Frazier's prowess at "painting pictures with words," I, as a reader, am transported into the story and feel like I am living it, even when I read the book in a busy and noisy Thai shopping mall.

A conversation between Inman and an old and blind peanut vendor at the field hospital shows what I mean about the author's aptitude at conveying to you what the characters feel.  After asking the blind man what he'd give to be able to see, Inman was conversely asked if there were any instances he wished he would never have seen.  The protagonist then recalled his participation at the Battle of Fredericksburg, how it was a lop-sided butchering of Union soldiers of which he wished he wasn't a part.

The Federals kept on coming long past the point where all the pleasure of whipping them vanished.  Inman just got to hating them for their clodpated determination to die.
The fighting was in the way of a dream, one where your foes are ranked against you countless and mighty.  And you so weak.  And yet they fall and keep falling until they are crushed.  Inman had fired until his right arm was weary from working the ramrod, his jaws sore from biting the ends off the paper cartridges.

and about the cold-blooded systematic coup de grâce of Union soldiers through the night after the battle...

Inman walked through the house and out the back door and saw a man killing a group of badly wounded Federals by striking them in the head with a hammer... the man moved briskly down the row, making a clear effort to let one strike apiece do.  Not angry, just moving from one to one like a man with a job of work to get done.

and the most macabre part is that the executioner...

whistled, almost under his breath, the tune of Cora Ellen.

So, did that evoke some emotions in you?  Disgust, perhaps?  Shock?

It really gets under your skin, doesn't it?  Not all of the book (or film) is about cruelty and the ugly nature of humans.  However, it is a love story set during a period of war, so tenderness goes hand-in-hand with savagery.  And this is precisely one of the two reasons why the film AND the book are my favourites.  The other reason?  You'll find out at the end of it all when you read or watch Cold Mountain.

For vinophiles

For those of you interested in the wine of North Carolina, this part is for you.

In Asheville, the birth town of Charles Frazier, there is the Biltmore Estate.  (  Here you can stay, wine, and dine in plush luxury.  You can even have your wedding (or reconfirmation of your vows) there.  

In nearby Hendersonville (SSE of Asheville), there are
  • Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards (, famed for their Viognier and Chardonnay
  • Burntshirt Vineyards ( - they make a Spätlese style dessert wine out of Petit Manseng blended with Traminette and Riesling.

For more information about wine in North Carolina, please visit:

A map of the locations of wineries in North Carolina can be found here:

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