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Editorial Reviews

Is anyone not fascinated by cases of captives who lived among Indians and escaped to tell about it? This novel opens with a Kiowa raid on settlers in northern Texas in the 1870s. So convincingly does Jiles imagine her characters - Indian, white, and black - and compellingly tell their stories that it comes as a surprise that much here is based on real people and events. Jack Garrett's performance is stellar. Three different races - men, women, and children - come vividly to life, their personalities distinct even though their stories are separated from ours by more than a century. It's a sweeping tale, never dry or fact-bound, and Garrett's sympathetic attention and unflagging skill are a perfect match for Jiles's marvelous invention.

Publisher's Summary

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 soaring 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 courageous reexamination of a dark American ...

©2009 Paulette Jiles (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

Would you consider the audio edition of The Color of Lightning to be better than the print version?

Did not read the print. Learned to enjoy audio books when I drove an 18 wheeler. Still use them to multitask.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Britt Johnson. Oh to have someone love me that much/

Which character – as performed by Jack Garrett – was your favorite?

Britt Johnson.

Any additional comments?

Do not read at the dinner table.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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A DIFFERENT "COWBOYS AND INDIANS WESTERN"


This is not a typical tale of cowboys and Indians, but a well written look at at the period of the great American expansion into the west. When major social shifts occur, a period of of time between the ending of one era and the start of the next is created. These periods of tension and unrest often raise hard questions about the changes intended to solve problems. Jiles raises some questions about the goals of the Civil War and of the country’s western expansion.

Her characters are well developed. Britt, a legally free Black man whose wife Mary and children are taken during a Commanche and Kiowa Indian raid and an Agent of the Indian Affairs Agency, Samuel, from an old Quaker family “Back East.”

When free “Coloreds,” Indians who are required to live on reservations, Comancheros from New Mexico and south of the Rio Grande, and mixed race people from the interbreeding among captives and captors of all races are thrown together in a time of unrest, strong ethnic, religious and political emotions, Jiles gives us a bit of the history of North Texas.

Samuel devoutly defends and tries to live his Quaker faith in non-violence. He refuses to wear a weapon or to allow military guards to accompany him on his visits to the reservations where he tries to bargain with the leaders for the return of the women and children they have abducted. The Indian view is: We never asked for reservation. We reject your “civilization.” Blacks and Whites are legally equals, but that will take over a century to become a reality.

The refusal to return captured women and children had its inevitable consequences. The book makes one wonder if what we think is best for us, is not necessarily best for others? When is non-violence not the solution? Why do people not care about your “legal” equality? What happens when your ideas about civilization are not mine? When does might make right? It is easy to highly recommend this book. It is an interesting listen.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Just wonderful

I should have known the author is a poet. She makes this wonderful Western story--based on true, skimpily remembered events--a lyrical picture of life, courage, confusion, and sorrow. Her descriptions of Texas topography and weather are vivid enough to make you want to back up and hear them again. And her treatment of black and white and Indian people is both just and informed by her understanding that there are problems that can't be solved, thoughts that can't be changed--and life that just must be lived in spite of all that

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Most excellent

Although I didn't like the narrator at first, he did grow on me. I learned a lot reading this book and I was especially grateful for how the author helped me to understand the conflict between Native Americans and the settlers of the old west. Even though the story was told primarily from the point of view of one black family, I was equally able to see the situation from the Indian point of view. This is a great story and a great read.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Broadens Knowledge of Settling of West

Read this twice through public libraries. Want to own my copy. Britt Johnson, the "colored" ex-slave was also mentioned in the gritty best seller, "Empire of the Summer Moon." In my humble opinion, this is Jiles best book. So many are uneducated about how blacks were involved in the settling of the West, because it is not taught in most schools in the United States. Hope you will be as delighted as I was.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Historically fascinating

The story was really engaging and well researched. I learned a lot about both the history of native Americans in the early settlers. The performance was fantastic. I could tell one character from another which often does not the case when I’m listening to audiobooks.

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Truth and Fiction

I found The Color of Lightening to be less-tight as a narrative than Jiles' "News of the World", but the interweaving of real events, real people, with fictional imaginings was perhaps more interesting. I was born in Young County and know many of the places in the story. I've also read about many of the captives mentioned in the story, sometimes in passing, sometimes in depth. It's a fascinating point in Texas history, between worlds, and the author captures the confusion of the times, the identity crisis of several ethnic groups and people in the middle of a changing world. Her descriptions of nature are some of the best. In that sense, the title of the book is a prelude to the way her voice evokes the land. I would read it again. I've recommended it to several history buffs. It's also just a darn good read.

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Her later books are better

I found this to be hard to get through. The characters were interesting and the plot ok (probably historically accurate). It’s just not as captivating as her later works.

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Texas history at its finest

I Don't give too many solid 5 stars but I really loved this book. I live in north Texas and am familiar with the places spoken of by the author. It was really incredible to get a feel of what it was like on the prarie in the western era. I too my cowboy hat to the author for her research. You made Texas history come alive!

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Outstanding Story, Prose and Narration

I was really surprised by this book. It is a rich story with compelling characters deeply grounded in history and fact. I couldn’t stop listening. The narration added to the power of the story. I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say I loved it! I had to look up the author and find out who she was, and how she could write such a powerful piece of historical fiction like The Color of Lightening. Highly recommended.