This novel chronicles the long journey home of a Civil War soldier, Inman, to Cold Mountain in North Carolina. The story begins in a military hospital, and Inman's neck wound, a long difficult-to-heal horizontal slice received in battle, is drawing flies. Inman is a moral man, and the brutality and killing he has witnessed on the battlefield lead him to leave the hospital AWOL and journey secretively, by foot, back to Ada, his love.

The trip is perilous; Inman is subject not only to the difficulties of near starvation and a poorly healing wound, but also the cruelties of people he meets along the way. However, every so often, he is also succored by compassionate people, such as the goat woman who provides the cure for his neck wound, if not for the wounds inside. Intertwined with Inman's story is Ada's: her preacher father dies of tuberculosis, leaving her utterly unable to provide for her own basic needs on the farm. Fortunately, a self-reliant young woman, Ruby, joins Ada on the farm, and helps transform both the farm and Ada.

The book details the ways of nourishment: physical (precise descriptions of food, its paucity and preparation) and nonphysical (themes of love, generosity, intellectual curiosity, and spiritual questing underpin the book). Cold Mountain itself provides both types of nourishment by offering hope, goals, shelter, food and a place where love and forgiveness are possible despite the savagery of man.


Frazier's writing is lyric, precise, and a joy to read. A tongue is "grey as the foot of a goose" (p. 56) and the center of an unused lane grows "a tall ruff of asters and foxtails." (p. 27) Cruelty, pain, and deprivation are, however, ever-present realities in the book: many wounds, killings, and deaths are described.

These descriptions are not gratuitous, but rather elicit continued reflection on the human condition. For instance: "In his [Inman's] experience, great wounds sometimes healed, small sometimes festered. Any wound might heal on the skin side but keep burrowing inward to a man's core until it ate him up. The why of it, like much in life, offered little access to logic." (p. 327) One wonders how the war-torn country could ever heal its wounds, its horizontal slice.


Cold Mountain won the National Book Award.


Atlantic Monthly

Place Published

New York



Page Count