Summary and book reviews of The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead

The Coldest Night

A Novel of Love and War

by Robert Olmstead

The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead X
The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2012, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2013, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mark James
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Book Summary

Olmstead reveals an unspoken truth about combat: That for many men, the experience of war is the most enlivening, electric, and extraordinary experience of their lives.

Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly consumes him. But when young Mercy's disapproving father threatens Henry's life, Henry runs as far as he can - to the other side of the world.

The time is 1950, and the Korean War hangs in the balance. Descended from a long line of soldiers, Henry enlists in the marines and arrives in Korea on the eve of the brutal seventeen-day battle of the Chosin Reservoir - the turning point of the war - completely unprepared for the forbidding Korean landscape and the unimaginable circumstances of a war well beyond the scope of anything his ancestors ever faced. But the challenges he meets upon his return home, scarred and haunted, are greater by far.

Robert Olmstead's riveting new novel is not only a passionate story of love and war, it is a timeless story of soldiers coming home to a country with little regard for, and even less knowledge of, what they've confronted. Through his hero, Olmstead reveals an unspoken truth about combat: that for many men, the experience of war is the most enlivening, electric, and extraordinary experience of their lives.

Chapter 1

By 1941 there was little left to cut along the Elk and by then much of the land was sold to the government for National Forest. That February was a twenty-seven- inch snowfall on the mountain. The snow lay five to ten feet deep in the woods. The railroad was unable to operate and the twitch horses were starving in the logging camps, living off bark and harness leather, cribbing their stalls. The felled trees had disappeared under the snow and the Captain, who was on the Elk estimating the last timber on a twenty-thousand- acre tract, had to give up and return to the home place, breaking path all the way.

The Captain was ninety-one years old and his skin was the color of marble stone. What little was exposed to the wind and cold he'd covered with a layer of petroleum jelly. He traced his path back home, keeping on for a day and a night, his snowshoes silently lifting and falling, his cruising stick clasped in his mittened hand, because he knew to stop would ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Disparate backgrounds and desperate times are a seductive combination. Olmstead makes good use of them, and what ultimately distinguishes his exceptional work from more pedestrian literature is his elegant prose.   (Reviewed by Mark James).

Full Review (623 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist
The Coldest Night is powerful, and often beautiful, storytelling.

Library Journal
A novel of the early 1950s and the Korean War that will appeal to readers of literary fiction.

O, the Oprah Magazine (Karen Holt)
Working-class boy meets rich girl, and forbidden passion flares, in this thought-provoking, unabashedly romantic novel set in the 1950s.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Despite the narrative's darkening vision... enough redemption rescues Olmstead's powerful, desolate, and well-crafted novel from becoming oppressively bleak.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. An exceptionally fine study of love, war and the double-edged role of memory, which can both sustain and destroy. Prize-winning material.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir

Korea suffered under a brutal Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945. After Japan's defeat in World War II, Korea was divided along the 38th Parallel, with South Korea falling under the jurisdiction of the United States, and North Korea under the Soviet Union. Reunification was the stated ultimate goal, but when North Korea attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950, the United Nations created an army to repel the invaders with the US military representing 88% of the 340,000 UN troops. According to the Naval History and Heritage website:

Throughout the summer of 1950, the U.S. and the other involved United Nations' states scrambled to contain North Korea's fast-moving army, assemble the forces necessary to defeat it and simultaneously ...

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