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'Cold Mountain' Author Charles Frazier On His Book And Its Reincarnations

This year’s One Book One Philadelphia selection is Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain.  From now until March 30th, the Free Library will host a series of reading groups, lectures, cooking classes and more as part of this mass reading event. This year,One Book coincides with the East Coast premiere of the opera, Cold Mountain, adding a musical dimension to its literary litany. 

Cold Mountain author, Charles Frazier

Frazier kept a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey on his desk as he was writing the story of a Confederate soldier’s journey home from the Civil War. The author says as he progressed through his work, he’d turn to the epic poem capturing another journey for the feelings it evoked.  

He gave his lead protagonist W.P. Inman a tattered part of the book Bartram’s Travels as a traveling companion – a kind of tonic to sooth his beleaguered soul.  

The author grew up in the southern Appalachian Mountains and says the colonial naturalist from Philadelphia was a local figure in those parts.  The beauty of nature described in Bartram's account served as a sharp contrast to the horror of the battlefield.  

Since Cold Mountain became a reading sensation and won the 1997 National Book Award for fiction, Frazier has written two more Appalachian-inspired novels:  Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods. He’s currently about half-way through a book triggered by his interest in Varina Davis.  Frazier describes her as a smart educated woman who married the "guy who became president of the Confederacy.”  She didn’t fit the Southern belle model and after her husband’s death started a new life in New York City.  

Meridee and Charles Frazier spoke on February 2, 2016 at the Free Library’s Independence Branch.

Radio Script:

This year’s One Book, One Philadelphia selection has a life far beyond its evocative images – inspiring both a movie and an opera. Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier opens up about his creation and sharing it with others…

Meridee Duddleston:  In the late ‘90s, the award-winning novel Cold Mountain jarred readers’ sensibilities and preconceptions.   Charles Frazier’s first book lacked prominent spots for the big names so associated with the Civil War:  Grant, Lee,  Sherman,  concentrating instead on the effect of devastating moments in history on its characters: Inman, Ada, Ruby.

He spun his odyssey of a broken confederate soldier’s treacherous  journey back to his Blue Ridge Mountains and the woman he loves from a bare snippet of a family tale...

Charles Frazier:  I’d heard this story about this ancestor who’d been involved in many really crucial points in the war.  And then walked home and was killed by the home guard after he had deserted. And I thought well that’s the story I think I know how to tell – is that walk home and that attempt to get your life back – to find out whether you’ve been damaged beyond repair, or whether you might be repairable.

MUSIC:  Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton (his father-in-law) playing fiddle – from the YouTube video “Am I Born to Die.” Frazier listened to Gaither when he was writing the book.

MD:  Over the course of two novels and twenty years the One Book author has given the green light to the reincarnation of his Cold Mountain, first as a movie and now an opera.  

CF:  My characters, my material will be in the hands of people who have every intention of doing something wonderful with it.  What more can you ask.  

MUSIC:  Baritone Jarrett Ott  as Inman, singing a selection from the opera Cold Mountain in October, 2015.

MD:  And now old-time fiddle music is swept to operatic heights in Jennifer Higdon’s and Gene Scheer’s new opera Cold Mountain, and Frazier’s book is born anew.