The Color of Lightning

The Color of Lightning

A Novel

Book - 2009
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Baker & Taylor
The best-selling author of Stormy Weather and Enemy Women brings readers to the dangerous edges of the Texas frontier, in a tale inspired by the challenges of the post-Civil War years.


“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.

Blackwell North Amer
In 1863, the War Between the States creeps slowly yet inevitably toward its bloody conclusion - and eastern thoughts are already turning to different wars and enemies.
Searching for a life and future, former Kentucky slave Britt Johnson is venturing west into unknown territory with his wife, Mary, and their three children - wary but undeterred by sobering tales of atrocities inflicted upon those who trespass against the Comanche and the Kiowa. Settling on the Texas plains, the Johnson family hopes to build on the dreams that carried them from the Confederate South to this new land of possibility - dreams that are abruptly shattered by a brutal Indian raid upon the settlement while Britt is away establishing a business. Returning to face the unthinkable - his friends and neighbors slain or captured, his eldest son dead, his beloved Mary severely damaged and enslaved, and his remaining children absorbed into an alien society that will never relinquish its hold on them - the heartsick freedman vows not to rest until his family is whole again.
Samuel Hammond follows a different road west. A Quaker whose fortune is destroyed by a capricious act of an inscrutable God, he has resigned himself to the role the Deity has chosen for him. As a new agent for the Office of Indian Affairs, it is Hammond's goal to ferret out corruption and win justice for the noble natives now in his charge. But the proud, stubborn people refuse to cease their raids, free their prisoners, and accept the farming implements and lifestyle the white man would foist upon them, adding fuel to smoldering tensions that threaten to turn a man of peace, faith, and reason onto a course of terrible retribution.
A work of the imagination based on oral histories of the post-Civil War years in North Texas, Paulette Jiles's The Color of Lightning is at once an intimate look into the hearts and hopes of tragically flawed human beings and a reexamination of a dark American history.

& Taylor

In post-Civil War Texas, ex-slave Britt Johnson, returning from a trip, discovers his family members murdered and kidnapped as a result of an Indian raid, and sets out to rescue his loved ones and seek revenge.

Publisher: New York : William Morrow, c2009
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780061690440
Branch Call Number: FIC JIL
Characteristics: 349 p. :,map ;,24 cm.


From the critics

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Nov 14, 2017

Was going to comment and then read Hecto's review from a few months back. I second his/her review. Jiles is a wonderful writer and I needed to skip some paragraphs and even whole pages b/c I didn't want to read descriptions of atrocities

Jul 31, 2017

This is the prequel to 'News of the World', and it displays the same outstanding qualities of the latter book: the author's exceptional ability to describe the natural world and the material culture of both Indian peoples and white settlers along the Texas frontier. As with 'News', the well-crafted story focuses on the recovery and return of white captives; but the message here is clearer and broader. We are made witness to a collision of civilizations that no 'enlightened policy' can prevent from running its inevitable course. The Kiowa and Comanche are going to go down fighting for their way of life because it is the right thing for them to do - indeed the only thing. In the author's sure hand these men and women are brave , joyful, clever, generous - but also gratuitously violent and cruel, with little capacity for empathy. The balance that she strikes in character description is really admirable. These are flesh-and-blood Indians, not Rousseauian children of Nature. Yes, they have been dispossessed by the whites, who are guilty of mass violence as well - something that Jiles makes abundantly clear throughout her narrative. But her ability to portray this clash as a 'fateful' encounter, a true tragedy, is what makes this a superior book - and a darn good read as well.

Jun 22, 2017

Well written story based on actual references to events in the life of Britt Johnson, a freed slave who brought his wife and 3 children to Elm Creek, Texas in 1863. This is the story of the ongoing battle between the settlers who pushed into Indian Territory and the clash of cultures as the Indians continued their long standing tradition of nomadic life, raids for horses and slaves and brutal treatment of those they chose not to enslave.

Dec 06, 2016

It's probably worth more stars but I can't read something that I think is going to have murder and mayhem in it. It started off beautifully, but the dark clouds started forming and I was out.
Yeah, wimpish, but nowadays I want to read something that won't throw me into despair.

Nov 26, 2016

Jiles fictional account of real-life Britt Johnson’s efforts at restitution of family and neighbors kidnapped by raiding Cheyenne and Kiowa in post-Civil War Texas is fascinating.

I liked that her characters were realistic and not stereotypes. Britt Johnson’s efforts to run his business and Samuel Hammond’s efforts as the Quaker Indian agent added authenticity and pathos to this tale. Good historical fiction.

Jul 23, 2013

Hauntingly beautiful and suspenseful.

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