Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Color of Lightning

The Colour of Lightning The Colour of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was not a lighthearted read.

It's about a freed slave, Britt Johnson, who travels to Texas with his family (and his former "owner"), into a land ravaged by raids and battles with the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. One day while Britt is away, the Native Americans raid the settlement and brutally murder his son and many others and take as captives Britt's wife and children, along with another woman and children. The women are repeatedly raped in front of their children and grandchildren.

Running parallel to Britt's story is that of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker man who is sent out to work for the Office of Indian Affairs and tries to manage life on the Texas plains and dealing with the lawless Native Americans without resorting to violence.

Both men display great bravery and honor and forge their own ways in this difficult period of history. Although the Native Americans' raids and scalping are described in brutal terror, it's also clear that the Texans and American government were no less brutal in stripping them of their lands and rights.

I was surprised to learn at the end of the book that Britt Johnson was a real person and his grave is still there in Texas...along with many of the others whose stories are told in this book. Johnson appears to be a great legend in west Texas, and a quick google search resulted in many hits. I am interested in learning more about Native American culture from that era--many of the children and adults taken captive did not want to leave when they were rescued several years later, even though they were often taken in deep brutality (after being raped or seeing their loved ones raped or murdered).

This is historical fiction at its best--bringing to life stories of people who actually lived and about which we have only sketchy details--and making us want to learn more.

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