The Color of Lightning (Paperback)

A Novel

By Paulette Jiles

William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780061690457, 384pp.

Publication Date: June 15, 2010

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (3/30/2009)

List Price: 14.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


From the Author of the National Book Award Finalist News of the World

“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.

About the Author

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World, which was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.

Praise For The Color of Lightning: A Novel

“A gripping, deeply relevant book.”
— New York Times Book Review on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING

“[A] meticulously researched and beautifully crafted story . . . this is glorious work.”
— Washington Post on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING

“Jiles’ spare and melancholy prose is the perfect language for this tale in which survival necessitates brutality.”

“Jiles never reduces her cast of characters to stock stereotypes, tackling a traumatic and tragic episode in American history with sensitivity and assurance.”

“Jiles is an ardent student of history, and through extensive research is able to reimagine life in post-Civil War Texas and create believable, multi-layered characters with remarkable verisimilitude.”
— San Antonio Express-News

“A rousing, character-driven tale.”
— Kirkus Reviews on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING

“Stick a thumb into any page of Paulette Jiles’s The Color of Lightning and you’ll pull out a fine prose plum.”

“A remarkably engaging story. . . . Jiles’s description is memorable and evocative.”

“Paulette Jiles has created a potent, harrowing story about real people with that genuine heroism that makes legendry pale by comparison....Jiles writes with an unerring poet’s touch.”
— Dallas Morning News on THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING

“Jiles colors... historical facts in prose that captures the imagination, allowing her audience to understand the diverse cultures struggling to coexist in this seemingly harsh land.”
— Historical Novels Review

“Elegiac in tone, the novel is ful of fierce, austere poetry, as well as hyms to the Texas landscape.”
— New York Times Book Review

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?
  2. How does paper and writing figure into the story? What does it mean to different characters? A few ideas to consider are Britt's freedom papers, the children's writing lessons, and Dr. Reed's cough that sounded "like the burning of paper," (pg. 34).
  3. When the Comanche and Kiowa raid Elm Creek, Jiles doesn't spare the reader gruesome details. Why do you think Jiles chooses to be explicit in her descriptions of the attacks, both in this scene, and in others throughout the book?
  4. How does author use details of the environment in anchoring a scene? Compare Samuel and Lewis Henry Morgan walking through Philadelphia to Britt riding through the plains to the Red River?
  5. We first meet Samuel Hammond in Chapter Three, a chapter that opens with the line, "the men who decided the fate of the Red Indians lived in the east, under roofs of slate and shingle." Much is addressed in this single sentence; why do you think this is the way that the men of the Society of Friends Indian Committee are introduced?
  6. What is a 'direct scene' and what is narrative summary? What are the effects of these techniques? Is the opening scene direct, or narrative summary? Find other examples.
  7. In the book, we read that Lewis Henry Morgan spent fifteen years researching Indian tribes to write a report for the Smithsonian entitled Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family. Like many of the characters in this book, Morgan actually lived; he was an anthropologist who published this work in 1871. It was the first major study of relationship systems within Indian tribes, and Morgan demonstrated the centrality of "kinship" relations across these many tribes. Kinship, it was revealed, was an important key for understanding cultures. Why do you think this paper is noted in the book? What does kinship have to do with the story?
  8. Furthermore, in their conversation on page 26, Samuel Johnson cannot recall the complete title of Morgan's paper; why do you think Jiles makes a point of noting how difficult the title is to say?
  9. What are the symbolic functions of mirrors? Find three examples. How does each 'reflect' a finding of the self?
  10.  When Dr. Reed is discussing plans for the Society, he tells of the Shawnee wars, the murder of Moravian Indians, and the small-pox infected blankets. He ends by asking, "What treaty have we not broken with these people?" What does this statement say about peacemaking? Do you think there is usefulness to a treaty?
  11. A ship-owner states on page 32, "So much violence has been used against the red man. The Texans will be coming home from war, inured, accustomed to scenes of slaughter and violence we still have trouble comprehending. They have driven the red man from his own hunting grounds before the war, and they will continue to do so after it." What does being "accustomed" to slaughter do to the relationships between parties in the book? What views are presented about using violence as a means to making peace? When is it successful, and when is it not?
  12.  Britt Johnson was an actual man whose story is documented to be true, and Jiles wrote The Color of Lightning based on her research of his life and surrounding events. What was your understanding of the relations between people in the US following the Civil War? Did it change after reading this? If so, in what ways?