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The Color Of Lightning

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  3,171 ratings  ·  517 reviews

In 1863, as the War Between the States creeps inevitably toward its bloody conclusion, former Kentucky slave Britt Johnson ventures west into unknown territory with his wife, Mary, and their three children, searching for a life and a future. But their dreams are abruptly shattered by a brutal Indian raid upon the Johnsons' settlement while Britt is away establishing a

Paperback, 349 pages
Published March 23rd 2009 by HarperCollins Canada (first published 2009)
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Jessica Morrell I've read all her books. She's a meticulous researcher and a poet. I cannot recommend her other stories too. Her latest book, News of the World is…moreI've read all her books. She's a meticulous researcher and a poet. I cannot recommend her other stories too. Her latest book, News of the World is going to be made into a film starring Tom Hanks. (less)
heidi there's nothing that "explains" the color of lightning, but there is a sentence from which i gather the title is derived…it's (in my book) chapter 12……morethere's nothing that "explains" the color of lightning, but there is a sentence from which i gather the title is derived…it's (in my book) chapter 12…britt is on his way to get his wife & kids and he's met tissoyo…tissoyo is describing a "fight" that he had heard about when he was a child--he's recalling the incident as he's telling britt: "i only heard about it. i was too young to go. how i wish i had been there. when they all came home they were streaming a kind of fire around them. they sang as they came into camp. fifty men all singing of what they had done and how they had charged into the farms and ranches of the enemy.… there was light all around them and all around their war horses and it was as beautiful and dangerous as the color of lightning."(less)

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Cathrine ☯️
Seven years before the wonderful News of the World was published there was this one. The setting once again is late 1800s Texas and Captain Kidd makes an early appearance reading his newspapers, reporting the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment allowing the vote to all men regardless of race or color. In his audience is former Kentucky slave Britt Johnson. In her ending notes the author says that though this is fiction its “backbone—Britt’s story—is true” and what a great story it is to one like
Diane Barnes
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The cover blurb from the Washington Post on my edition says, "Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted...This is glorious work.". That just about covers it.

Yes, a glorious work. Well written historical fiction can teach me more than years in a classroom, because it gives me people with personalities, names, faces, motives; it leads me step by step into dangerous but lovely landscapes, it shows me why certain things happened as they did, and in this book it explains so much about the
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-clubs
3.5 stars, rounded up

Fair warning, this book starts on a pretty violent note with an Indian raid against a settlement in Texas. And it doesn’t lighten up. It’s dark and depressing.

There are multiple story lines here, all taking place at the same time, the end of the Civil War through 1871. The first belongs to Britt Johnson, a freedman who loses his family to the raid. The second belongs to Samuel Hammond, a Quaker tasked with overseeing the Friend’s Indian Affairs for the Comanche, the Kiowa
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is by turns vivid, beautiful, violent, and brutal. It is not a quick read and it’s not for the faint of heart. Just as in News of the World, Paulette Jiles has her very own unique style and while it might not work for everyone, it resounds with me. She doesn’t just paint a picture, she uses words to create a new dimension, an atmosphere, a whole world. I feel like some of her passages could be considered poetry, in some sense.

One early morning there was a heavy fog. They broke camp in
Toni Reese
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I don't often go back and reread a sentence just because it is so beautiful, but I found myself doing just that while reading THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING. The author is a poet as well as a memoirist and novelist, and it shows. Let me set up this sentence for you. It is December of 1870 in North Texas. A man is standing in dense fog, trying to be totally silent, because he knows that a Kiowa or Comanche is nearby, as he heard the voice singing and chanting a song of grief. The man may not be able to ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read News of the World, also by Paulette Jiles, earlier this year. The historical period and themes are similar, but the focus is more on two characters. This novel is much wider in scope, with more storylines. The violence was quite a bit more explicit, and if this hadn't been for a postal book swap, I may have quit after the first chapter. Phew!

To me, the most interesting story was that of Samuel, the Quaker being sent to the lawless front where the Comanche are killing and kidnapping while
Eloquent, illuminating tale about frontier life in Northern Texas between 1864-1871. Based on a true story, this novel is also graphic and bloody (take note: not for the queasy) in its descriptions of the capture and dispatching of frontierspeople by Kiowa and Comanche. One of the things I loved about the story was its realism. The violence was completely necessary, in my opinion, to fully understanding the story and the relationships of the characters. The author was fully adept in describing ...more
Jul 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I haven't read a historical fiction book that I loved so much in a long time. This one is set in North Texas--right in my back yard. It is the fictionalized version of, Britt Johnson, a freed slave's life immediately following the Civil War. His wife and children were kidnapped by Kiowa Indians and he rescued them single handedly. There are many points of view represented in the novel including a Quaker Indian agent--very loosely based on Laurie Tatum, and the Comanches and Kiowas who were ...more
Karen Hart
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Do you know why the rainbow is infinite in its scope of color? Because all colors are contained within white light -- the stuff the prism of a raindrop separates -- the stuff that lightning is made of -- the stuff this American story is made of. Awesome read! And, I know that my attention was captivated because Jiles stuck to authentic American History... terrifying, bloody, and tribal from every racial point of view. Indian. African. Mexican. Canadian. French. Spanish. English. Asian. German. ...more
it took me three months to get through this novel because i had to put it down several times, and i couldn't have done otherwise. paulette jiles is a poet and her writing is poetry but it's also incredible historical fiction and you read it and you wonder how she does it. she uses parataxis a lot too which is why i just wrote the paratactical sentence that precedes this more hypotactical one. you can find out what this book is about in the synopsis. in the epilogue we are told the story is ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio, overdrive, dnf
I loved News of the World but I haven't been able to get through any of the author's other books. This book had too much detailed violence for me.
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well done historical fiction. I love this legit author that really puts to paper the details. It’s a fascinating account of our history. The author does a fabulous job personalizing the historical events. Note: the book opens with some very graphic and violent scenes
One of my favorite books of 2016 was News of the World, so good it will perhaps be one of my favorite books of all time. In it we meet Captain Kidd, elderly civil war veteran who roams north Texas in 1870 reading newspapers from far and wide to settlers hungry for news. On one of his trips, he is asked to return a captive girl to her people hundreds of miles away, hired by freighter Britt Johnson.

Real-life Britton Johnson, born a slave in Tennessee, moved with his wife and children and
Nicola Mansfield
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 27, 2017 rated it liked it
When doing research for another book, Jiles came across Britt Johnson, a freed slave who settled with his wife and children in southern Oklahoma in the 1860s. In this book, Jiles imagines a life for this man about whom history has kept little record. Although Johnson inspired this novel, his story is only one of many threads that Jiles tries to follow. This is historical fiction about the clash of cultures between the native peoples of the southern Great Plains and the American settlers who ...more
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
THIS BOOK SHOULD COME WITH A HUGE TRIGGER WARNING. Truth to tell, I didn't make it very far into this book. Much as I adore Ms Jiles' work, I felt shocked and dismayed at how little prepared I was for the sickening violence that began only a few pages into the story. If I had wanted to read an accurate portrayal of the horrors faced by some early settlers, I would have picked up a clearly-marked non-fiction historical narrative. That the story wheels so suddenly from the interpersonal struggles ...more
Stephanie Anze
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Britt Jonhson is a former slave. Having been granted his freedom, his wife Mary, their three children and himself move to Texas so he can establish his freight business. On a day that Britt is away, their settlement is attacked by a band of Kiowa and Comanche. Whomever was not slained, was captured and among that group is Mary and her children. Thus Britt becomes determined to find and rescue his family.

This is my second novel by Paulette Jiles. Having previously read News of the World this
Jun 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, maps, history
A novel centering on interactions between Native Americans and Eastern settlers along the Red River in the mid-nineteenth century. I took a special interest in this, being somewhat familiar with some of the locations mentioned in the book. Based on actual historical figures, this book is beautifully written -- very poetic in its description.

The main themes center on clashes of cultures and beliefs -- whites and former slaves, Comanche/Kiowa and settlers, Quakers and the military. The most
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The title reference comes on page 114, when Tissoyo describes Comanches returning to camp after a raid on white settlers: “There was light all around them and all around their war horses and it was as beautiful and dangerous as the color of lightning.”

“Beautiful” and “dangerous” are major themes in this book, which tells the story of culture clashes in north Texas during and after the U.S. Civil War. We see much of the narrative through the eyes of Britt, a black settler who traveled from
Tracey the Bookworm
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. An amazing story. I learnt a lot from this book about a period of history I knew hardly anything about.
Sam Sattler
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
I only discovered the novels of Paulette Jiles this past February when I attended her presentation of her 2016 novel News of the World at the San Antonio Book Fair. That novel went on to become a Book Chase Top Five at the end of 2016, and it is a novel I still think about from time to time. Jiles is an adopted-Texas writer who writes the kind of serious western fiction that I’m always hoping to find, so I knew I had to read more of her work. I am pleased now to report that 2009’s The Color of ...more
Linda Tiessen-Wiebe
Jan 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-read
This is a great story of that transitional time in the American west, just after the civil war. The clash between a black freedman, the raiding tribes of Comanche and Kiowa and a Quaker Indian Agent seem to capture the monumental forces changing the country. The civil war was over, but black men were still less than citizens. Small pox had done its damage among the Indians, with long-reaching consequences, and the Comanche and Kiowa could not see themselves becoming farmers. The buffalo still ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jun 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
‘All he had was the story of his life’

In 1863, the American Civil War is still being fought and, in the way of all wars, provides opportunities for some as well as destruction for many. Ms Jiles has written this novel around the life of Britt Johnson, a former Kentucky slave.
Britt Johnson, with his wife Mary and their three children, have moved to the Texas plains in search of their dreams. A brutal Indian attack results in the death of Britt’s eldest son and the capture of his wife and other
Jun 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Okay I am a big fan of Paulette Jiles--she writes really good historical fiction with a poetic flourish. I have loved all three of her novels, and while "Stormy Weather" is my favorite, I really loved this one too--it was a page turner. It's the imagined/fictionalized story of Britt Johnson--an ex-slave who appears in north Texas histories because he rescued his captive family from Comanche and Kiowa tribes. Not much is known about him, so Jiles states on her acknowledgment page that she wanted ...more
Kathleen (itpdx)
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well written fictional imagining of the life of Brett Johnson, a freed slave who settled in north Texas toward the end of the Civil War. Jiles writes with a wonderful poetic hand. She keeps the story moving. She lays the historical foundation without becoming pendantic. She leaves the reader with much to ponder about race, colonialism, religion and war.
For those interested in this history, I would highly recommend Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the
Marie desJardins
Feb 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I just could not read this entire book -- I'm sure it is historically accurate, and I am well aware that the history of our country is full of violence and hostility between white (and black) settlers and native Americans. But the degree of graphic, explicit, brutal murder and rape is too much for me. I don't care for the writing style, either -- it's turgid and indirect, with a lot of plodding details in small side points like the way the butler turns around, or the glistening mint jelly on the ...more
Jun 08, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Dad
I didn't love Enemy Women like most everyone else did, and I feel the same towards this novel. There's just something about Jiles' style of writing I just seem to not care for. The subject and time are fascinating and I enjoyed learning about the amazing story of Britt Johnson. I really liked the first half of the book, but I thought it was slow and disjointed after he rescues his family. I thought Samuel and his story line were never fully developed and therefore I thought it slowed the story ...more
In 1863, a freed black man settles with his wife and three children on the plains of North Texas, only to have their dream turn into a nightmare. While Britt Johnson was away getting supplies, a violent Indian attack leaves Johnson's oldest son dead and wife and remaining children enslaved by their attackers. Johnson vows to get them back and to avenge their tragedy.

What makes this work of historical fiction so wonderful is that Britt Johnson was not a fictional character. Author Paulette Jiles
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Her more recent novel, News of the World, is one of my favorite books, and I plan to read all of her novels.

This is a much more difficult book to read than News of the World. Britt Johnson, a freedman, moves from Kentucky to North Texas with his wife and children near the end of the Civil War. There are constant wars with the indigenous people of the area, and many people are kidnapped. The history is difficult to read. Jiles language is beautiful, and she does not provide easy answers.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-for-me
Had to quit this book because of violence. Too bad, I enjoyed Jiles “News of the World.”
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Paulette Jiles is an American poet and novelist. Born in Salem, Missouri, she was educated at the University of Missouri with a degree in Romance Lanugages. Jiles lives in the Texas Hill Country on a small ranch.

“The Indians are what we have made them,” said Dr. Reed. “Every war between us and the red man has been precipitated by broken treaties. If they have attacked the settlers, it is because we have made them what they are.” 2 likes
“This was a world unto itself that lay between the Canadian River and the Rio Grande as if it had been designated on the day that God made it as the place where men would come to fight and kill one another. The Texans had brought their women and their children and their slaves right into the middle of the war land and expected to set up houses and fields and herds and live as if they were in Maryland, and were surprised on moonlit nights like this when Comanche arrows sang through the air in the dark.” 2 likes
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