This has to be one of my all time favourite books, and I know Mum loved it too, although this is not her copy but one I spotted in a local charity shop recently and just had to have the sheer pleasure of reading again – a small Christmas treat to myself!
A spectacular debut novel set in the American Civil War, it is not only an unusual and truly beautiful love story, but a compelling and at times gruelling denouement of the tragedy of war, both for the combatants and the civilian population caught up in it.
In a nutshell, Inman, a soldier wounded both physically and mentally, has had enough after four years of the futility, wastefulness and destruction of war and deserts from the hospital to walk home to Cold Mountain and Ada, the woman he loves despite having barely spoken to, across a landscape both scarred and pristine – both are eloquently wrought. Ada meanwhile is struggling to survive on the farm her father has left her, with no skills suitable for the task and not knowing whether Inman is alive or dead. Many reviewers compare it to Homer’s Odyssey and it is indeed an apt comparison.
The story is based on the authors great great grandfather’s recollections of the Civil War, and tells both Inman and Ada’s stories together with those of the people who both help and hinder them along the way; some, mainly women and slaves, who have virtually nothing but share what they have gladly, and those who are truly evil. It is also an ode to the beauty of the North Carolinian landscape and to the native Americans who have been forced from their homes along the Trail of Tears – this is indeed Inman’s own Trail of Tears.
Inman feels so damaged by his experiences that he wonders if he can ever recover – conversely, Ada has become empowered by the arrival of Ruby, an illiterate local girl who was almost feral growing up as a result of her father Stobrods neglect, but as a result is entirely equipped to survive, and to teach Ada the skills needed for survival which as a Southern Belle she has never been taught – ‘I can speak French, but I can’t grow food’.
It is not a quick read, but I would recommend taking your time over it and relishing the gloriously descriptive narrative – and having something handy to eat while you do so – the hunt for food is paramount throughout the novel, both for Inman on the road and Ada at Black Cove, so much so that I found myself hungry just reading it. And avoid watching the movie version until you have read the book – it’s a nice film, but the book is so much ‘more’.
Happy to gift this volume forwards if you’d like it – simply get in touch either here or through the Instagram or Facebook page, and I’ll send it to you with love from Mum and I. It’s definitely one of my top ten!