Get Thee to the Novel

I occasionally read nonfiction, but reading novels is my passion. I look forward to sharing my favorite books, and discovering new favorites from others.

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

It's been several months since I've read this book, so my observations are not as accurate or fresh as I would like. But this book has truly stayed with me. That magical thing happened which is quite rare: after reading one paragraph I had no choice but to continue reading. I HAD to know what happened next.


First of all it is a first-rate suspense novel. It also takes a complex view of every character without shying away from the brutality and ignorance that ruled on all sides. It is set in the Texas frontier at the end of the Civil War when hostilities between Native Americans and white settlers were escalating. Two adult women and three children are kidnapped by a band of Comanche. The women are enslaved and the children are basically adopted and raised as Indians.


Much of the novel focuses on the efforts of the husband of one of the women, Britt Johnson, to track them down and negotiate for their release. He is a freed slave trying to build an independent life for his family. I learned after I finished the novel that he is based on a historical figure; not much is known about him except that he did go in search of his kidnapped family. I don't want this to be a spoiler, so won't tell you any more than that.


There are also chapters about a Quaker agent for the Office of Indian Affairs. He wants justice and peace for the Indians, but has a fundamental lack of understanding of what is important to them. He cannot get his head around the fact that the people he is trying to help will never be content to be farmers settled on one piece of land.


Jiles writes with enormous sympathy for her characters. And the language is absolutely beautiful while seldom being self-consciously poetic. Read this book. Just read it.