The Color of Lightning
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The Color of Lightning

4.1 33
by Paulette Jiles
     
 

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“Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted.... This is glorious work.” — Washington Post

“A gripping, deeply relevant book.” — New York Times Book Review

 From Paulette Jiles, author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Enemy Women and Stormy Weather, comes a stirring

Overview

“Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted.... This is glorious work.” — Washington Post

“A gripping, deeply relevant book.” — New York Times Book Review

 From Paulette Jiles, author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Enemy Women and Stormy Weather, comes a stirring work of fiction set on the untamed Texas frontier in the aftermath of the Civil War. One of only twelve books longlisted for the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize—one of Canada’s most prestigious literary awards—The Color of Lightning is a beautifully rendered and unforgettable re-examination of one of the darkest periods in U.S. history.

Editorial Reviews

Historical Novels Review
“Jiles colors... historical facts in prose that captures the imagination, allowing her audience to understand the diverse cultures struggling to coexist in this seemingly harsh land.”
Dallas Morning News
“Paulette Jiles has created a potent, harrowing story about real people with that genuine heroism that makes legendry pale by comparison....Jiles writes with an unerring poet’s touch.”
Booklist
“Jiles never reduces her cast of characters to stock stereotypes, tackling a traumatic and tragic episode in American history with sensitivity and assurance.”
Denver Post
“A remarkably engaging story. . . . Jiles’s description is memorable and evocative.”
San Antonio Express-News
“Jiles is an ardent student of history, and through extensive research is able to reimagine life in post-Civil War Texas and create believable, multi-layered characters with remarkable verisimilitude.”
Texas Monthly
“Stick a thumb into any page of Paulette Jiles’s The Color of Lightning and you’ll pull out a fine prose plum.”
Seattle Times
“Jiles’ spare and melancholy prose is the perfect language for this tale in which survival necessitates brutality.”
New York Times Book Review
“Elegiac in tone, the novel is ful of fierce, austere poetry, as well as hyms to the Texas landscape.”
Washington Post
“[A] meticulously researched and beautifully crafted story . . . this is glorious work.”
Washington Post on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“[A] meticulously researched and beautifully crafted story . . . this is glorious work.”
Seattle Times on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“Jiles’ spare and melancholy prose is the perfect language for this tale in which survival necessitates brutality.”
Booklist on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“Jiles never reduces her cast of characters to stock stereotypes, tackling a traumatic and tragic episode in American history with sensitivity and assurance.”
Texas Monthly on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“Stick a thumb into any page of Paulette Jiles’s The Color of Lightning and you’ll pull out a fine prose plum.”
Denver Post on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“A remarkably engaging story. . . . Jiles’s description is memorable and evocative.”
New York Times Book Review on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“A gripping, deeply relevant book.”
Dallas Morning News on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
“Paulette Jiles has created a potent, harrowing story about real people with that genuine heroism that makes legendry pale by comparison....Jiles writes with an unerring poet’s touch.”
Steven Heighton
Jiles moves fluently not only among various plots but also among various viewpoints—black, white, Indian, Mexican, adult, child. Her roving omniscience gives the novel the breadth and busyness of a Diego Rivera mural, yielding a portrait of a place and the peoples surging through it at a time of irrevocable change…a gripping, deeply relevant book.
—The New York Times
Carolyn See
I'm sure I'm biased about this novel. My great grandparents were Dallas pioneers, and I'm crazy about this material. But I think, objectively as well, that this is glorious work.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The author of Stormy Weather and Enemy Women returns with a lively exploration of revenge, dedication and betrayal set mainly in Kentucky and Texas near the end of the Civil War. Britt Johnson is a free black man traveling with a larger band of white settlers in search of a better life for his wife, Mary, and their children, despite the many perils of the journey itself. After a war party of 700 Comanche and Kiowa scalp, rape and murder many of the whites, Mary and her children get separated from Britt and become the property of a Native named Gonkon. Britt must wait through the winter before he can set out to rescue and reclaim his wife and children, only to discover that not only does he not have enough money to bargain with the Indians but also that his own family's fate has as much to do with land disputes and treaties as it does with his determination to get revenge. Jiles writes like she owns the frontier, and in this multifaceted, riveting and full of danger novel, she does. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

As the Civil War winds down, freed slave Britt Johnson moves his wife and three children to Young County, TX. He dreams of starting a freight business, and his wife wants to teach school. But when the Comanche and Kiowa come raiding, Britt is not there to defend his family; his oldest son is killed, and the rest of his family and neighbors are taken captive. Britt spends a long winter plotting how to rescue them. Samuel Hammond, a Quaker man from Philadelphia, is sent to the region to be the new Indian Agent. He holds high ideals about nonviolence and teaching the Indians an agrarian lifestyle. Riveting suspense builds as Britt journeys north toward Indian country and encounters many Indian captives who do not want to be re-Anglicized. Using as her basis true histories of the Johnson family and others, Jiles (Stormy Weather) paints a stirring, panoramic tale of the young, troubled state of Texas. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans and readers who enjoy original Westerns. [Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
—Keddy Ann Outlaw

Kirkus Reviews
A novel of the Old West, based on the true story of Britt Johnson, a freed slave whose wife and family were stolen by Indians but eventually recovered. Most of Johnson's narrative has been passed down through oral history, but Jiles (Stormy Weather, 2007, etc.) fills in the gaps more than adequately. One day while Johnson is away getting supplies (and, sadly, after a nasty spat with his wife), his wife and two children are abducted by Kiowa-Comanche along with an older neighbor and her grandchildren. The Indians brutalize the women, but the children-especially the Johnson's ten-year-old son Jube-begin to adapt to life on the plains. The narrative divides itself between Johnson's search for his family and his family's exposure to Indian life, and then divides again with the introduction of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker who, as a representative of the post-Civil War (and radically revamped) Office of Indian Affairs, is assigned the task of attempting to "civilize" the Comanche-Kiowa and turn a nomadic and warrior culture toward farming. Hammond is appalled at the number of abductions, and even more repelled to discover that some of the younger abductees have no desire to return to their previous lives. Part of the tension involves Hammond's growing discontent with Indian culture-he finds himself conflicted because, as a Quaker friend has written him, it is "our professed desire [as Quakers] to treat the Red Man as our brother and as a being deeply wronged over the centuries that we have inhabited this continent." Meanwhile, Johnson, in conjunction with his Comanche friend Tissoyo, succeeds in ransoming his wife and children, though he discovers that his wife has been psychologically scarred aswell as physically injured. During her fragile recovery Johnson starts a freighting company, carrying goods from various settlements to frontier forts through dangerous territory. A rousing, character-driven tale.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061690457
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/15/2010
Series:
P.S. Series
Pages:
349
Sales rank:
237,463
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Color of Lightning

Chapter One

When they first came into the country it was wet and raining and if they had known of the droughts that lasted for seven years at a time they might never have stayed.

They did not know what lay to the west. It seemed nobody did. Sky and grass and red earth as far as they could see. There were belts of trees in the river bottoms and the remains of old gardens where something had once been planted and harvested and then the fields abandoned. There was a stone circle at the crest of a low ridge.

Moses Johnson was a stubborn and secretive man who found statements in the minor prophets that spoke to him of the troubles of the present day. He came to decisions that could not be altered. He read aloud: Therefore thus saith the Lord: Ye have not harkened unto me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his own brother, and every man to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. That's in Jeremiah, he said. So they left Burkett's Station, Kentucky, in 1863 in four wagons, fifteen white people and five black including children, to get away from the war between armies and also the undeclared war between neighbors.

Britt Johnson was proud of his wife and he loved her and was deeply jealous of her because of her good looks and her singing voice and her unstinting talk and laughter. Her singing voice. All along their journey from Kentucky to north Texas he had been afraid for her. Afraid that some white man, or black, or Spaniard, would take a liking toher and he would have to kill him. He rode a gray saddle horse always within sight of the wagon that carried her and the children. She was as much of grace and beauty as he would ever get out of Kentucky.

Before they crossed the Mississippi at Little Egypt they stopped and there at the heel of the free state of Illinois Moses Johnson caused Britt's manumission papers to be drawn up and notarized by a shabby consumptive justice of the peace who looked as if these papers were the last ones he would notarize before he died from sucking in the damp malarial air and the smoke of a black cigar. The justice of the peace said it was a shame to manumit the man, look at what a likely buck he was, a great big strong nigger, and Moses Johnson said, You are going to meet your Maker before long, sir. You will meet him with tobacco on your breath and smelling of the Indian devil weed, and what will you say to Him who is the Author of your being? You will say Yes I did my utmost to keep a human being in the bonds of slavery and robbed of his liberty, and moreover I spent my precious breath a-smoking of filthy black cigars. Here is the lawyer's signature on his papers and his wife's papers as well. You will have your clerk copy all of these and then deposit the copies in the Pulaski County Courthouse. And from there they went on to Texas.

You could raise cattle anywhere in that country. At that time there was very little mesquite or underbrush, just the bluestem and the grama grasses and the low curling buffalo grass and the wild oats and buckwheat. When the wind ran over it they all bent in various yielding flows, with the wild buckwheat standing in islands, stiff with its heads of grain and red branching stems. The lower creek bottoms were like parks, with immense trees and no underbrush. The streams ran clearer than they do now. The grass held the soil in tight fists of roots. The streams did not always run but here and there were water holes whose edges were cut up with hoof marks of javelina and buffalo and sometimes antelope. Ducks flashed up off the surface and skimmed away in their flight patterns of beating and sailing, beating and sailing.

Mary had been raised in the main house with old Mrs. Randall who was blind in one eye, and she had not wanted to come to Texas, even on the promise of her freedom. Britt said he would make it up to her. As soon as the country was settled and the war was over he would start in as a freighter. He would break in a team from some of the wild mustangs that ran loose in the plains. There had to be a way to catch them. Then he would buy heavy horses. And then they would have a good house and a big fenced garden and a cookstove and a kerosene lamp.

The people who had come from Burkett's Station built their houses with large stone fireplaces and chimneys. They rode out into the country to explore. The tall grass hissed around the horses' legs like spray. Feral cattle ran in spotted and elusive herds, their horns as long as lances, splashed in red and white and some of them dotted like clown cattle.

They had come to live on the very edge of the great Rolling Plains, with the forested country behind them and the empty lands in front. Long, attentive lines of timber ran like lost regiments along the rivers and creeks. Everything was strange to them: the cactus in all its hooked varieties, the elusive antelope in white bibs and black antlers, the red sandstone dug up in plates to build chimneys and fireplaces big enough to get into in case there was a shooting situation.

There were nearly fifty black people in Young County now. Britt said soon they could have their own church and their own school. Mary was silent for a moment as the thought struck her and then cried out, She could be the Elm Creek teacher! She could teach children to sing their ABCs and recite Bible verses! For instance how the people were freed from Babylon in Isaiah! Britt nodded and listened as he stood in the doorway.

The Color of Lightning. Copyright © by Paulette Jiles. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Paulette Jiles is a poet and the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the bestselling novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, and The Color of Lightning. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Southwest Texas
Place of Birth:
Salem, Missouri
Education:
B.A. in Romance Languages, University of Missouri

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Color of Lightning 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
ReviewYourBook.com More than 1 year ago
The setting is post Civil War, 1860s. The plot is based on actual events. This is the true story on Britt Johnson?s courageous search for his family. Looking for a new beginning former slave, Britt Johnson, his wife Mary and their family left Kentucky for Texas. They had no idea the terror that waited for them. Britt left the house angry at Mary. He returned to find his oldest son murdered and his wife and other two children missing. Johnson set out to find his family. He would not give up until he could bring them home. Paulette Jiles is an incredible author. She successfully paints a word picture of the Camanche and Kowa plight and well as the fate of the innocents captured. Jiles never spares the reader the pain of the era. Her words are graphic and, at times, brutal. The hero in this true story is Britt Johnson, a man that would not give up the search for his family. Johnson inspired the movie The Searchers. The Color of Lightning is beautifully written and a book you will want to put at the top of your must-read list.
ahk5678 More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written, continually keeping me eager to know what happens next. Some of the action is disturbing, yet likely accurate. The book, based on a true story, conveys a feel for that turbulent period of time and place in American history. I particularly appreciate the point made in the book that although cruelty is unacceptable on the part of both Native Americans and settlers, and that people on both sides are confronted with complicated dilemmas, it was the injustice perpetrated by the "new" Americans that set the conflict in motion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love Paulette Jiles. All her books are amazing. Her characters, her story line, her visual imagery. I can't say enough. You do need to like historical fiction, however.
Anonymous 19 hours ago
Informative and interesting.
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
My local library does not carry Paulette Jiles on their shelves. I found her quite by chance, when I was researching Wallace Stegner. I will be donating her books to the local library, for sure. The Color of Lightning takes place in the High Plains Desert and Texas Hill Country just at and after the end of the Civil War. Southerners were moving on, out of the chaos of reconstruction, families re-united were looking for a place to start over. This book follows the travels and travails of two families - a radically religious man, Moses Johnson, and his family, and the family of his slave, Brett Johnson. as they travelled from Burkett's Station, Kentucky, to the wide open west. Manumission papers were drawn up and signed as they passed through the boothill of Illinois so they all crossed the Mississippi River at Little Egypt as free United States citizens, and went to Texas. Unless you have spent time in the west, it is hard to picture the lives of white settlers here as so vulnerable and dangerous just a hundred fifty years ago. It is a good thing, to be reminded of just how far we have come, and often a hard thing to realize just how prejudiced and arrogant we were. But not an easy read. It is one I will keep on my shelf, and read again. All the things that make the high plains desert home to me are expressed so beautifully in Paulette Jiles story, and all the things that make us better people laid out for all to see.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A really good read. If you like history, you'll appreciate this story. It's interesting and well written.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually would not write to an author but this woman is exceptional. I could not put the book down - it was written in a way that kept me interessted as you began to live along with the characters during the really difficult times after and during the civil war. You get a good perspective of the difference in our races and the struggles to survive. Thank you Ms.Jiles for an outstanding book. I am anxious to read more of your writings.I strongly recommend this book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I reread Jiles' "Enemy Women" about once a year, and this novel did not disappoint. Jiles is a master storyteller, this novel is rich in character and historical accuracy.
sparky2 More than 1 year ago
It is so sad what we did to the Indians.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frontier history in its raw and terrible beauty, crafted in exquisite language by a talented novelist. There are some parts at the beginning (mostly the introduction of Samuel, the Quaker) that seem like they were written by a different writer, rather lengthy, tedious and unnecessary. The main story of Britt and the Indians will grab you ,though, and not let you go.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good account of the plight of the indians and their fight to hold on to their land. Moves fast and is well written.
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