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The Coldest Night

3.26  ·  Rating Details ·  705 Ratings  ·  121 Reviews
Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly consumes him. But Mercy s family disapproves, and the two young lovers flee to New Orleans to play out their passionate affair, until Mercy s father hunts them down, takes his daughter home, and sends Henry running for his life. The time is 1950, and the Korean War hangs in the balance. De ...more
ebook, 250 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Algonquin Books (first published April 3rd 2012)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,216)
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Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night is an odd book. It is a sweeping epic told in less than three hundred pages. It is certified literary fiction, but is as subtle as an anvil falling on your head. It seems to be two very different books sharing the same cover. The first half is a lyrical, sappy love story. A love so impossible that it only happens in books or film or on Hallmark cards. The second half is an ultraviolent war story. It is blood and guts and lasting trauma. The two are halves are ...more
Jan 28, 2014 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cormac McCarthy junkies needing a fix
Shelves: fiction
It's a little better than OK. What hampers the book is the love story of Henry and Mercy (seriously), which is icky sweet but elevated by Olmstead's terrific language. If you've read enough fiction or heard enough Springsteen songs, you could map this love story out on a bar napkin. The Korean War part it, now that's special. I'm talking Stephen Crane-in-a-modern-war type of writing. And I don't think it's an accident that Olmstead chose "Henry" as a name for his young solder. I actually wish Ol ...more
Apr 15, 2012 Gayle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love it or Hate it
THE COLDEST NIGHT by Robert Olmstead is like no other book I've ever read. There is no other about which I can say, "This reminds me...."
I love the style of writing. I hate the subject matter yet I couldn't stop reading.
I did stop twice but just long enough to let the tears subside so I could get back to the matter at hand.
Most of the book is about the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, the decisive battle of the Korean War. Never have I read such a vivid battle scene; I don't kno
Jean-Paul Adriaansen
Henry and his girlfriend Mercy ran away from home and had the time of their life until Mercy's father and brother find them, take Mercy home, and threaten Henry's life.
Henry, desperate and heartbroken, joins the Marines and is been sent straight away to the Korean War, just at the time when the tides of war are turning against the Americans. Lew, a grim WW II veteran, takes Henry under his wings. Together they suffer going through a living but freezing hell of atrocities and brutal never ending
Mar 08, 2016 Lori rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ugh-gave-up
I gave up well before it was over and didn't even make it to the Korean War; I've heard the latter part of the book is better. It is rare that I dislike the writing style and the story both, but there you have it. Olmstead uses a lot of words to describe not much at all, and too few words when something actually occurs. Pretentiously literary.
May 14, 2012 Amee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Every review I read was spectacular, however I was extremely disappointed when I read this book. The subject matter was very interesting however I did not like the writing style at all. Someone described Olmstead's style as "sparse", however I just felt like the style was choppy ... almost empty?
Mar 27, 2012 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read his earlier book, "Stay With Me" and really enjoyed it. He has a unique, gritty way of taking mythology and putting a contemporary spin on it. Blunt and honest. Such a sad fable: a young boy and girl of such potential ruined by the forces of war.
Apr 09, 2012 Pete rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
just OK--his experience in the Korean war and then back home fighting his demons from the war were interesting- but not compellling me to want to keep reading to learn what was next
Jul 19, 2012 Tamara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Olmstead's ability to set the scene and mood. His descriptions of nature - whether it is the rural south or the battlefields of Korea are poetic. He reminds me of a sketch artist who in a few quick brush strokes brings a portrait to life. In this story, the grandfather, mother,the aunt the young man who is the central character and the men who are father figures to him are all intriguing characters described with minimal back story or details.
The book is divided into three sections. The
Jul 17, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I almost give this novel the full five stars. Set in the 1950's, it deals with a young couple (17 and 18) deeply in love but from opposite social classes. They run away, they get found, they are separated by her father and brother. End of part one. He enters the Marines, still aged 17, and is sent to Korea during the war. The winters there are legendary for the coldness of them, hence the title. He sees and does horrible things,as soldiers do in war. He is injured many times, but gets back home. ...more
Brian Wraight
The Coldest Night comes with the quasi subheading "A Novel of Love & War." While Olmstead succeeds admirably in telling the War part of the story, he seems out of his comfort zone with the Love part. The romance between the main character and his soul mate germinates quickly and feels rushed - at times it teeters on the edge of contrived corniness (especially some of the dialogue). Ultimately, however, the strength and depth of the main character wins out and Olmstead's missteps in the Roman ...more
Feb 23, 2015 Fayza rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I never managed to connect with this book. The author's style of writing was very distracting (disjointed, backwards sentencing, phrases for the sake of being obscure, certain words thrown in as descriptors when they're never used as such, etc.), and the few main characters that appear aren't brought to life enough to make you care about what happens to them. The author knows how to paint a pretty picture...but sometimes he doesn't know how to balance that out with plot or character development. ...more
Jul 01, 2012 Scottnshana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Its flight scenes are reminiscent of "Lolita" and the battlefield descriptions are every bit as well-written and horrible as anything I've seen in war literature. The plot is brutally honest and the debilitating effects of what we now know as PTSD are starkly rendered as the reader follows a very likable character from innocence to seduction, carnage, and coming back to a home that doesn't feel like one. It's a uniquely American love story and an unembellished examination of violence and its eff
I found this book to be rather strange, however it did offer great insight into a soldiers mind (despite the fact that it's a fictional story) I grew up with a father who was greatly damaged by the Vietnam war but would never share with me why or how it affected him. This book gave me a glimpse into what that experience could have been like and why perhaps it would be to painful to recount. I appreciated this insight although the book itself meandered without resolve in its entirety. At least it ...more
PennsyLady (Bev)
Jan 16, 2016 PennsyLady (Bev) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The year is 1950.
Henry Childs is a high school junior with a fervor for horses and baseball.
As a stable hand he meets Mercy, who is wealthy and university-bound.
Henry, by contrast, is simply handsome and destined for reliable blue-collar labor.

This coming of age story begins with an intense love affair, soon to be stifled by the fury and vengeance of Mercy's father and brother.
"To escape the wrath of the young girl’s father, Henry joins the Marines, arriving in Korea on the eve of the brutal bat
Jul 21, 2013 Jeannette rated it really liked it
I devoured this book. Maybe because it was the first fiction I've read in awhile, or maybe because I was so bewildered by the writing. The dialogue seemed stilted but still real, and the chronology of the story seemed to pass so quickly, although apparently not at all. It was haunting, and sexy, and beautiful, and sad. And something that I both couldn't believe, and could entirely believe, both at the same time. I loved it.
Oct 15, 2014 Clifdisc rated it really liked it
The previous book I read by Robert Olmstead, Far Bright Star, was a Western and it was interesting to see him take that same, stark writing style so often associated with Westerns and apply it to another time and place to equal effect.

The Coldest Night is, in part, a novel of the Korean War and it explores the emotional toll for soldiers and veterans having to wrestle with issues the rest of us would rather not think about. The scenes set in Korea only take up about a third of the book. The fir
Mark Fabiano
Oct 06, 2014 Mark Fabiano rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, 2014
A remarkable novel of war, love, and coming of age. I have read very little about the Korean War. As a boy, I recall being awakened by my screaming uncle, a Korean War vet who I think had similar experiences as the protagonist, Henry Childs did.

The interesting pulse of this novel is that its story line, characters, plot, all move along a simple three act structure of a dramatic present. No gratuitous flashbacks or lapses into a post modern fragmented world. Nope. A simple tale of a young man, a
Peggy Otto
Jul 10, 2015 Peggy Otto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is unlike anything I have read recently. With sophisticated lyricism, Olmstead explores the full range of emotions of a boy falling in love and going to war and trying to coming home. The battle descriptions are painfully graphic but compelling. The narrative voice drew me unexpectedly and powerfully as it toggled between naïveté and bitter recognition. Through terrible experiences in the Korean War, Henry retains a kind of gritty sweetness that made me sorry to part company when the n ...more
Jul 12, 2013 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-we-love
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): The last time I wandered through Powell’s, I was set on finding a book of heartbreaking prose full of violence, tragedy, and romance. Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night delivers all three with a fierce economy. At the start of the novel, seventeen year-old Henry falls for Mercy, a girl whose powerful family disapproves of their affair. The couple runs away to New Orleans where they relish in hedonistic freedom until an act of violence forces Mercy back to her fami ...more
Mar 18, 2012 Cwiegard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very memorable and stark tale of love, war, and what comes after. Olmstead's spare style is reminiscent of Hemingway as he charts the coming of age of a seventeen year old who falls in love with the daughter of a Judge. They run away together, are married, then are separated as the Judge's family attacks him and abducts his wife. For lack of a better alternative, he signs up for the Korean War, and soon experiences the horrors of the retreat from Chosin reservoir.

There is a timelessne
A picture is worth a thousand words. Olmstead’s direct, descriptive passages gave me the sense that I was thumbing through a collection of photographs telling the story. Many readers have compared him to Cormac McCarthy, and I strongly concur with that comparison. Indeed, I had many of the same initial reactions I did when I read, The Road - a sense of strangeness, not being able to pinpoint exactly where I was in time or space, a disconnection with the characters, a continuing question of “what ...more
Sonia Reppe
May 10, 2012 Sonia Reppe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
This is the third book by Olmstead I've read; I still like his memoir the best.
As the book jacket says, it is "a novel of love & war." Incidentally, my favorite novel of love and war is E.M.Remarch's "A Time To Love And A Time To Die."
Olmstead's writing is smooth and artful. The story is about young Henry, at seventeen he has a love affair and is despised by the girl's family. After the girl's brother almost kills him, he follows in the footsteps of his male relatives by enlisting in the M
Ann Schaffer
There are three distinct parts to this book. The first is a teenage love story between Henry and Mercy, two kids from different sides of society. They run away to New Orleans, but are stopped by the girl's father and brother. The second part is a graphic description of the Korean War, where Henry fled to escape his loss of Mercy. The third part is his return home where he tries to forget what he saw.

The author used the three parts to show how drastically circumstances, especially war, can chang
Robin Benoit
I have many thoughts about this book: The author has a strange writing style: he uses the word "and" multiple times in each sentence. That was distracting for me. And yet (there is that word!) his style was arresting and unique. I couldn't really get a handle on the character Mercy; she seemed crazy to me. The book itself is heavy and dark. I can't say that I enjoyed it at all, but it was unlike any other book I have ever read.
Aug 03, 2013 Glen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give this book 4 stars. There is much I really like about this book. I have always enjoyed the way the author brings people, places, things and moments to life in his unique and rich way. He does that again here but at times this was not enough to sustain other short comings.

The book is broken into three major parts and by the end of the laborious and drawn out first part I was ready to put down the book and walk away. I'm really glad I didn't . Part two is very strong and is as goo
Nov 04, 2015 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm a huge Robert Olmstead fan. His prose is so sparing and precise and, yes I'll say it yet again, lyrical. Henry and Mercy are 17 and in love. When their relationship is forbidden by Mercy's family, they run away to New Orleans. Their love is passionate and physical and consuming. After they are discovered, Mercy is taken back to her hometowm and Henry is beaten and threatened. The second part of the book finds Henry as a Marine in Korea at the height of the Korean War. The powerful emotions o ...more
S.G. Wright
Jul 22, 2013 S.G. Wright rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It may seem a straightforward love/war story with a familiar premise yet the writing in “The Coldest Night” is quite beautiful, notably the descriptions and the coming of age of the main character Henry, 17, who’s quite sensitive to the world and his first love. I especially thought the author, Robert Olmstead, wrote the war scenes amazingly well, and the falling in love parts aren’t too shabby either. His descriptions of the Korean battles really blew me away, and were more effective to me than ...more
Dec 28, 2012 Terry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, life
powerfully written..... but sad.... i did not finish
FROM AMAZON: Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly consumes him. But Mercy’s family disapproves, and the two young lovers flee to New Orleans to play out their passionate affair, until Mercy’s father hunts them down, takes his daughter home, and sends Henry running for his life.
The time is 1950, and the Korean War hangs in the balance. Descended from a long line of soldiers, Henry enlists in the M
Sarah Warren
Mar 05, 2016 Sarah Warren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jo
Usual love store between poor and rich when boy goes off to war. Very descriptive of the war. Some times very gruesome. Boy comes home.

I did not like the book, but could not put it down as I wanted to know what happened next.

Could some one explain the baby girl at the end. Could not figure out where she fit into the story. Did I miss something?
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Free Books, .99 &...: Lit fiction "The Coldest Night", releases 4/3 1 13 Mar 31, 2012 11:31PM  
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Robert Olmstead (born January 3, 1954) is an award-winning American novelist and educator.

Olmstead was born in 1954 in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. He grew up on a farm. After high school, he enrolled at Davidson College with a football scholarship, but left school after three semesters in which he compiled a poor academic record. He later attended Syracuse University, where he studied with Raymon
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“Do you ever think about the rocks?" he said.
"How does that go?"
"Maybe they are alive and their hearts beat once every thousand years and they only need to take a breath every five hundred.”
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