From the Mobile Register, Sunday, December 14, 1997

'Cold Mountain' is a wonderful
destination of the mind

Register Editor

It was the spring of my 24th year and my thoughts turned to the home front. The hospital on the Marine base in DaNang offered a two-week respite from combat, as I recovered from an infection in my leg. I had been out on patrol, and cut my leg in a fall on a near vertical, rocky mountain path.

This treatment and recovery period offered a time to sleep, write letters and to think. When you are in a war zone, and you think, two topics are likely. The first is the war itself.

And when thinking about the war, the No. 1 one topic is survival. You analyze your own place in the war and consider how you might act to extend your existence. You are aware there is probably little you can do in this regard, but you dwell on the issue - mortality - a lot.

Then you think less personal thoughts: What of this war? Is it just? Should we be here? Do our leaders know what the hell they're doing? As to the latter, you are pretty sure that they do not, but there is little you can do about that.

You are, after all, a soldier - not so unlike a member of Rome's legions who marched across mountains and deserts and who camped under starry skies, or the English and Americans and Ger mans who hunkered down in damp trenches during The Great War and wondered if their leaders knew what they were doing.

And you are not so different from Inman, the hero of Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain." In this bestselling novel, Inman is a Southern soldier felled at Petersburg in the terrible war that divided Ameri ca. His stay in a field hospital causes him to think the purifying and narcotic thoughts of his home and the girl waiting there, the topic soldiers think about when they are not thinking about the war.

That is where my mind drifted dream-like in those DaNang days, to pleasant memories of family, to my mother, my dad, a pretty girl I had met at 4-H Camp, to simple pleasures, fried catfish and cherry pie and iced tea.

There was one large difference in my thoughts and Inman's, and that involved mountains. I was a flat-lander, Red River flats and piney clay hills for a memory, and that Vietnam mountain had hurt me. You might even say it whipped my patrol. We were lost there for days in the rain and the mist and the suffocating canopy of great trees whose greenness covered our sky. Where was the sky? We never saw it in those days.

But to Inman, the mountain, Cold Mountain, is everything, or almost everything. It is home, of course, and it is where his girl Ada lived, so in that way it is everything to him.

Lying there in that hell of a hospital ward he reads his books, and observes the dying and he thinks much about the mountain, much like I thought about Blanchard, and Vickie.

But while my thoughts were useful only as a refuge from the terrible fact of war and dead friends and the prospects for tomorrow, Inman takes action. When he has martialed enough strength, he walks away from the hospital and the war and begins a remarkable journey homeward, toward Ada and Cold Mountain.

But Mr. Frazier's most estimable first novel is more than the story of this journey. It is more than Inman's story, too. Certainly it is Ada's story, the strong young woman he journeyed to claim as his bride.

Perhaps foremost it is a love story, not in the modern sense, but one of an elegant and romantic time - a love of the mind and the soul, where strong and beautiful sentiments were thought, or put to pen and ink.

Too, it is a story about pioneers, like Ada, and her preacher father, Monroe, who left the graces and charms of civilized Charleston behind to take the Gospel to the mountainous frontiers of the Cherokee territory.

Charles Frazier's story is a wonderful place of words, particularly words about the land, describing in richness the appearance, shape, color, nuance, even the taste of the landscape over which Inman traipsed on his homeward trek.

``Cold Mountain'' does not flinch from the meanness of the time, nor the meanness of some people, but neither does it overlook the strength of charac ter and will that ran through the last days of the war in this corner of the South.

As a reader, I walked every step of the way in Inman's footprints, appreciating the characters that Charles Frazier developed from stories told him by family and friends about true events during the war.

When I finshed the book, I felt a loss, realizing there was no more to read or know of Cold Mountain's fine citizens. I yearned for more. For a while, they had lived quite vividly in my thoughts and heart.

Even now their memory burns like morning embers in a December hearth, their lingering glow and faint heat reminders of a great fire that compelled me to its flame.