A rousing, character-driven tale.

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THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING

A novel of the Old West, based on the true story of Britt Johnson, a freed slave whose wife and family were stolen by Indians but eventually recovered.

Most of Johnson’s narrative has been passed down through oral history, but Jiles (Stormy Weather, 2007, etc.) fills in the gaps more than adequately. One day while Johnson is away getting supplies (and, sadly, after a nasty spat with his wife), his wife and two children are abducted by Kiowa-Comanche along with an older neighbor and her grandchildren. The Indians brutalize the women, but the children—especially the Johnson’s ten-year-old son Jube—begin to adapt to life on the plains. The narrative divides itself between Johnson’s search for his family and his family’s exposure to Indian life, and then divides again with the introduction of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker who, as a representative of the post–Civil War (and radically revamped) Office of Indian Affairs, is assigned the task of attempting to “civilize” the Comanche-Kiowa and turn a nomadic and warrior culture toward farming. Hammond is appalled at the number of abductions, and even more repelled to discover that some of the younger abductees have no desire to return to their previous lives. Part of the tension involves Hammond’s growing discontent with Indian culture—he finds himself conflicted because, as a Quaker friend has written him, it is “our professed desire [as Quakers] to treat the Red Man as our brother and as a being deeply wronged over the centuries that we have inhabited this continent.” Meanwhile, Johnson, in conjunction with his Comanche friend Tissoyo, succeeds in ransoming his wife and children, though he discovers that his wife has been psychologically scarred as well as physically injured. During her fragile recovery Johnson starts a freighting company, carrying goods from various settlements to frontier forts through dangerous territory.

A rousing, character-driven tale.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-169044-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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