Written by Timothy Kiprop Kimutai
Imagine a mountain-snow-peaked and isolated, called Cold Mountain, imagine its desolation, hear the sound of wolves and the growl of a lone bear. Imagine a farm at the foot of this mountain, with a girl and call her Ada, skilled in drawing still-life and playing piano, but inept with cooking and farming, at a loss in her new environment, having lived only in cities.
She is living with her father-a preacher, and one Sunday after one of his father’s sermons (too academic for any of the general populace to make any sense of), she walks outside church and a man looks at her. That man’s name is Inman. A brief conversation, embarrassing is what they have, but then there is one more meet-up where they share a kiss.
Then Inman gets drafted to war, and Ada’s father dies, and she is left alone to tend to a farm that had not even beforehand been run commercially but more as a pet fancy of the deceased. The war is horrendously cruel, men being ripped with bullets, bombs and bayonet, and dying in their numbers like flies. Inman is shot in the neck and as he is brought to the military hospital in a boxcar, no one, not even he believes he will make it alive.
He does. He recovers. And one day, after thinking long and hard about Cold Mountain and the girl Ada he left behind, he walks out of hospital and follows a most spectacular odyssey back home. A journey plagued by slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, broke musicians and sickly widows. It speaks of a region in a severe moral decline, with the social fabric rapidly disintegrating with the future so uncertain as not to exist in the mind of anyone-everyone now living on a primeval predatory instinct, taking chances as they come, living one day at a time.
Ada, on the other hand, is a fish out of water when it comes to living on the farm. She even gets attacked and runs away from a rooster, knows nothing about growing crops or preparing for winter, and would have actually have starved were it not for the timely appearance of Ruby, dishevelled and straightforward, and able to make sustenance out of the impossible, a consequence of being abandoned by a footloose drifting father when she was three, and having to live alone in the wilderness like a bear cub. These two unlikely couple learn to live and respect one another, and for the first time in her life Ada learns how to be practical, and to grow food, and to cook!
The story swings like a pendulum between these two stories, that of Inman walking back home and being haunted by memories and thoughts only given to those who have seen the true face of war, and of Ada and Ruby, two women eking out a living in a farm at one of the most cruel and tumultuous times of history.
Cold Mountain is a story to be read at first, and then placed down on a table, as you close your eyes and hear angels beating their wings softly all around you. Never have I read such lyrical prose anywhere, never have I seen the pit of human emotion-struggle, hope, defeat and perseverance-being shovelled so fully out. It is a story that will tug your heart and make you cry, and it is a book that will demand to be read and re-read and re-read till you go crazy.
I live you with the novel’s first sentences:
“At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital war”