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November 22-28, 2006

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Charles Frazier

Phil Bray/Miramax Films
The wait is over: After nearly a decade, Charles Frazier has a new book for fans of 'Cold Mountain.'

Mountain Man

'Cold Mountain' author Charles Frazier talks about the Cherokee inspiration for his latest, 'Thirteen Moons'

By John Freeman

THERE ARE A LOT of things Charles Frazier would like to preserve, but right now there are two in particular on his mind: independent bookstores and the Cherokee language. And chances are Thirteen Moons (Random House; $26.95 cloth) could make a difference. The most anticipated second novel in years, the book tells the story of the destruction of the Cherokee nation as seen through the eyes of a 90-year-old man who was adopted at age 12 by a Cherokee chief. Frazier's hero then spends the rest of his life fighting against the tide of unfair treaties and westward expansion, ultimately securing a small piece of ancestral land for a group of Cherokee that still exists today called the Eastern Band.

Frazier has decided to kick off his book tour by revisiting all the independents that supported him long before Cold Mountain became a bestseller. (He visits Kepler's in Menlo Park on Dec. 5.) At the start of this tour, Frazier, calling from his home state of North Carolina, explained what drew him to his new story.

METRO: You once said that Cold Mountain was inspired by an ancestor. Is it fair to say that Thirteen Moons is inspired by your ancestors' relationship to the land and who came before them?

FRAZIER: Yes, in a way. My ancestors came here after one of those treaties after the Revolutionary War opened up land west of Ashville to white occupancy. What happened is what usually happened: some more-well-to-do people came in and bought big chunks of land and leased them to less-well-to-do people. And there have been parts of my family in western North Carolina for over 200 years.

Did you hear stories about their interactions with people living inside the Cherokee nation?

No, but when the army came to throw out the Cherokee, they kept ledgers of possessions because they were going to be reimbursed when they got out West. So you can go through farmstead after farmstead and see what all they owned. Over and over, the lists would have been exactly what my ancestors had back then: a little cabin, some fields, a few animals, a plow, axes, kitchen equipment.

How do you find all these details?

[They] came from rare-books rooms. Special-collections kinds of things helped a lot: letters, documents, government reports. But then on top of that, I did a whole lot of reading about Cherokee food.

Did you try to make any of it yourself?

No, well, like the soup that Bear makes that has the rooster combs in it? I've had that soup, but it had chicken feet and combs in a clear broth. This was in the Andes, and I read a description of a soup that sounded a little like that, a Cherokee soup where the chicken legs just float right in there. A funny-looking soup.

Did you learn Cherokee?

No, it is really hard. We're working on this project to translate "The Removal" section of this book into Cherokee. At the rate that it's going, it will be a dead language in 20 or 30 years. And it doesn't have to be this way. Over in Cherokee [North Carolina], they've got this immersion program for 2-year-olds. It's like day care done completely in Cherokee. The little kids are picking it up fast, but there is nothing to read in Cherokee. So the idea is to translate the middle of this book, and to learn what the problems are for publishing in Cherokee. I'm paying for the project, and any money that it might generate will go back into the project—hopefully, it will wind up with books for kids coming out of the immersion program.

What has the reception to the book been in the Eastern Band?

It's been really warm. I went in the summer once we had readers copies and gave them to some of the elders on the tribal council and Chief Hicks and other people in the community to read, and then had a lunch just to talk about it. One of the things I said that day is what I'm trying to do in this book is not tell your story, I'm trying to tell our story—this land that we've all occupied together. It's home for all of us.

Charles Frazier appears Dec. 5 at 7:30pm at Kepler's, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. (650.324.4321)

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