The Color of Lightning

By Paulette Jiles
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780061690457, 349pp.)

Publication Date: June 2010

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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 business. Returning to find his friends and neighbors slain or captured, his eldest son dead, his beloved and severely damaged Mary 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.

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 history.

About the Author
PAULETTE JILES is a writer and poet. She won the Governor General's award in 1984 for her collection of poems "Celestial Navigation".

Conversation Starters from


  1. In Chapter One, Mary shares with Britt her excitement to educate the children as the schoolteacher at Elm Creek. She says she is eager to teach them to recite bible stories ("For instance, how the people were freed from Babylon in Isaiah,") and also stories of the children's history. "She told the children stories of who they were," Jiles writes, "That their great-grandfather had been brought from Africa, from a place called Benin, and that he was the son of a great king there . . . " Why is it important that these stories are passed on to the children as part of their elementary schooling? Why do you think Jiles opens the book with this?

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