The Color of Lightning: A Novel

The Color of Lightning: A Novel

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061970993
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/06/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 11,712
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World, which was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.


Southwest Texas

Place of Birth:

Salem, Missouri


B.A. in Romance Languages, University of Missouri

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Color of Lightning 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews. 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.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: I love historical fiction that takes place in the late 1800's Wild West. The Black man/Indian perspective was also intriguing.This is the story of Britt Johnson, a true-life black man, and the story of his life just after the Civil War. Britt was a freedman with a wife and 3 three children. Not much is known of him in hard facts, though his story has lived on in oral tradition throughout the ages. When he was off with the other men of his homestead area getting supplies in town, the Comanche and Kiowa came in a raided their homesteads. Killing, raping and taking captives. Britt's wife was raped and suffered a major head wound, his eldest son was killed, while his wife and two younger children were taken captive along with a neighbouring white woman and her two little granddaughters. We see this story from Britt's side, from Mary's side, from the children's side, and from various Indian character's sides as well. There is also introduced a Quaker man who becomes the agent of Indian Affairs for these two violent Native groups and he wrestles strongly with his peaceful Quaker ways and the violent kidnapping of children & women by the Indians as he becomes the only man with enough power to help those being violated but he must go against his religious philosophies to do so and yet his moral self will not allow him to not help stop the atrocities.A fine book that brings deep perspective to a dark period of American history. Indians are being sent off their land and made to live on reservations to learn to farm when it is not their way, but in return their way is raiding and war, scalping, raping, enslaving others. Many wrestle with the morality of it all. Britt is a hero on the white man's side as he risks his life to find Indian captives and bring them back home to their own culture, but what to do with the ones taken as babies who know no other way of life. It is wrong that they have been stolen and yet they do not want to leave what they consider there homes. While Britt is a respected man for what he does, he's never allowed to forget the colour of his own skin as he enters city centres and must use back doors or cannot even enter certain establishments at all. A gripping, thought-provoking book peopled with real life figures from history.
hollysing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Britt Johnson, former Kentucky slave, moves his family to Texas to find a new life far away from the Civil War. The Color of Lightning has a violence that shook my sensibilities, but is simply the author telling the truth of the times. Plains Indians captured and enslaved white settlers and settlers gave in kind with violence back. The book was historically informative and disturbing. Britt's indefatigable insistence on finding and releasing the captives is inspiring.
Litfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Color of Lightning" is based on the true story of Britt Johnson, a freed slave who journeys with his family to Texas near the end of the Civil War to make a life of his own. When Britt goes on a journey, his family, along with that of a nearby neighbor, is attacked and taken captive by a band of Kiowa Indians. Britt embarks on a mission to get his family back, and to build a life and a business for himself in this dangerous time in history. The novel beautifully illustrates the tragedy of the conflict between settlers and Native Americans, without ever choosing a "side." The U.S. government is also implicated in the novel for its gross mishandling of relations with the Native Americans, which, even if sometimes well-intentioned, was doomed because of complete ignorance of Native American culture.The writing is very vivid and descriptive, yet sometimes feels inconsistent. Most parts of the novel are gripping and captivating, but some others seem to drag and get bogged down in details. While the characters were fascinating, it was somewhat difficult to connect to them. There were several different, interconnected storylines and at times it seemed the novel couldn't decide what it was truly about. Several interesting themes abounded: the psychological impact of captivity, race relations, the displacement of Native American tribes; but it seemed the novel could never quite decide what its true focus was going to be.Nonetheless, the story overall is quite compelling and is a snapshot of a tumultuous time in American history. There were several moments that were so emotionally charged that my stomach flip-flopped. The descriptiveness of the writing pulls the reader into the story such that you can imagine the scenes as if they're unfolding right before your eyes. The author researched the history thoroughly and overall, this is a very worthwhile read.
JudyKenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great read. Not only was the story engrossing, the writing was beautiful, the characters finely drawn. It's everything a good book should be. It told the story of the perils and hardships endured by the settlers of Texas both during and after the Civil War, not the least of which was Indian raids by the Comanche and Kiowa Indians. When raiding Indians took Britt Johnson's wife and children captive, the black freedman set off to do the impossible; bring them home. It would have been easy to write this from the perspective that the Indians were barbaric, cruel monsters or from the other perspective, that they were put-upon victims of white aggression. Ms. Jiles managed to bridge the gap between the two. She showed us, rather than told us, what happened to these people and why. There are two sides to every story and she masterfully presented both.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sockless. This author knocked my socks off! Giving fair treatment to both sides of the Indian/Settler conflicts in North Texas during the times right after the Civil War, this story reads like the real-life adventure it is. It covers the conflict between the Plains Indians nomadic life and long history of warring, raiding and killing from their northern homes in Oklahoma south to Mexico vs. the incoming settlers farming and ranching on fixed plots in between. The dilemma of good men in government who would have liked for Indians to be free to pursue their chosen lifestyle if only they would give up their raids and killing of settlers. The frustration of settlers trying to keep their families safe, and of Indians trying not to give up their ways. It tells, too, of what befell their captives; the degradations they faced (tactfully written), how they coped, adapted, and changed.In the Author¿s Note at the end of the book, she tells which characters were real persons. She says also: ¿The story of Britt¿s journey to rescue his wife and children from captivity is beyond doubt, as are the brief accounts of his life afterward. . . . This book is a novel, but it¿s backbone ¿ Britt¿s story ¿ is true. Britt¿s story returned to me repeatedly as I read through north Texas histories over the years, and I often wondered why no one had taken it up. And so I did.¿ Around this brave man, a former slave, the author has created a fascinating story encompassing the real life events of the Elm Creek raid of 1864. Unlike those authors whose writing says ¿look at what all I learned while I was working on this story¿, Jiles seamlessly knits together her historical research, with excellent story-telling. I¿m going to put my socks back on and find another of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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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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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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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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