Tag Archives: Paulette Jiles

SIMON THE FIDDLER


[Hear the plaintive song “Lorena” on his violin].

Anyone who read, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, might remember the name Simon “The Fiddler” Boudlin and the love of his life, Doris Dillon. Jiles’s newest work, Simon the Fiddler, brings the life of the young Paducah, Kentucky lad, Simon Boudlin to center stage. Jiles reminds us on her website:

“. . .  Simon from News of the World. . . was playing his fiddle in the Spanish Fort . . .  You remember the love of his life Doris Dillon. This is the story of how they met, how Simon survived the last battle of the Civil War and how they lived through his own terrible mistakes and the chaos of Texas under Reconstruction. It is a story of music and what those who create music must endure in a rough-and-tumble world.

It seems that Simon’s life began on the fly, so to speak. His father, an itinerant fiddler, paused long enough in Paducah to impregnate Simon’s mother and to pass along the genetic predisposition to love music. Simon’s mother died when he was young leaving him double grieved – born a bastard;  now, an orphan. His kind elderly great-uncle, a bachelor, named Walkin’ Dave did his best to raise him.

Throughout the majority of the Civil War, Simon and his uncle thrived and stayed out of the horrific conflict. The day arrived, however, near the end of the war, that their lives were upended. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s forces swept in and burned Simon’s family’s treasured horse barn to the ground and confiscated the horses for the cause.

As a result, Walkin’ Dave walked away. Simon, now in his early 20s, packed his prized violin and set out to make a living performing music gigs where ever he could find them. Present at every turn was the possibility of running into military “conscriptors”, both Union and Confederate, hungry for troops to sustain the fight. He had one advantage; he was slight of build and appeared much younger than his actual age. He also had one disadvantage; a hot-button fiery temper.

Jiles presents a flawed character in Simon. A young man raised in a world without a “normal” family. In her simple style, we follow Simon – a man with a plan as he conceives a future that will bring him peace.

He loved solitude; it was as necessary to him as music and water.

All he needs is a wife, the right wife, a woman that accepts his need for solitude and shares his love of music. A homestead, a place where he can live a life without social interference.

It was there at the Confederate encampment . . . that Simon considered his life and how he would survive in the world to come.

Through the thunder of war, through raucous scenes of bar fights, through placid moments where he is a peace with nature and his own music, we find Simon resolved to live a life of his own choosing. He can be friendly but lacking role models, never learned what it means to be a true friend. He knows what he wants and does what it takes to achieve his dream.

The weakest link in the story is the improbable love story of Simon and Doris. The reader is led to believe that love at the first sight can be sustained while separated through war and reconstruction. The question hangs out there… once reunited and married, can their dream be sustained when facing real life together?

The journey became tedious at times and bogged down with slow motion coverage of the same thing over and over.

The strongest theme throughout the book is the place music plays in life. Ed Power (Irish Examiner, January 31, 2020) expressed the power of music in our lives:

Music moves us – not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically – reducing stress and improving mood. And it’s been doing it for centuries. . . In the darkest days. . . music feels like a shard of light cutting through the gloom.

In the end, I enjoyed the book but News of the World remains my favorite. That said, any book that has me still thinking about issues and the place of music in our lives is a worthy read.

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COLOR of LIGHTNING: a novel

VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT

 

North Texas was a good place to be a black man; slave or free, they were all expected to carry arms… a person could pretty well do what he liked and he could be whatever he took a mind to as long as he had a strong back and a good aim.

 

Color of Lightning, published seven years before the bestseller, News of the World,  illuminates the untamed frontier with its Indian raids, legions of wagon trains determined to settle the land, and the heavy presence of military forts to enforce taibo or “white man’s” laws on the indigenous peoples. 

This is not a made-for-TV setting with the good guys in white hats and the bad guys in face-paint and feathers. It is a graphically violent story of two cultures; one struggling to maintain centuries old traditions and the other determined to expand and subjugate the earth and native populations. The book is heavy with emotion and should be read with an eye to each side’s perspective.

In the real-world of 1860’s west Texas lived a newly freed slave, Britton “Britt” Johnson and his wife, Mary. The Johnsons built a home in a settlement along Elm Creek, not far from the Brazos River, and about 10 miles from Fort Belknap. It was a peaceful place with nice neighbors and a promise of new life. The smart and enterprising, Britt, soon established a successful freight wagon business serving the civilian and military communities.

October 13, 1864, Britt Johnson was away buying supplies when over six-hundred Kiowa and Comanche Indians made a murderous raid along Elm Creek. Britt’s wife, Mary and two of their children, Rube and Cherry were among those captured. Britt’s oldest son, Jim, was murdered. The specific details of Mary, Rube and Cherry’s rescue by Britt do vary but his valiant efforts and success are without question.

Through the author’s imagination, Britt is brought to life; a man’s man- proud, brave, courageous, fearless- strong in will, dangerous to his enemies and tender in heart to those in need of compassion and understanding- and capable of mistakes.

We ride alongside Britt as he sets out to rescue his family, making an unlikely friend along the way with a temporary outcast Comanche named Tissoyo. We feel the freedom of riding alone in the unfettered  land and smell the danger that lies in every shadow and thicket.

Our hearts break as we follow behind Mary Johnson and Elizabeth Fitzgerald as they are force marched to faraway Indian villages, suffering unprovoked violence, starvation, and inhumane living conditions. We yearn to offer support as they fight to survive; working long painful hours in the daily rigors of subsistence life with rudimentary tools and ingenuity. We feel each mother’s pain as their children are adopted by tribal families; enchanted by the simple lifestyle, the loving attention and for Britt’s son, Jube, the sense of belonging and power as a warrior. 

Meanwhile, Samuel Hammond, the newly appointed Indian agent, arrives in Texas, armed with good intentions and deep spiritual convictions. The newly redesigned Indian Bureau has turned over management of the frontier to various religious denominations. The Quakers have been given control of  Comanche and Kiowa-Apache territory. Sure of his God and sure of his mission, Samuel forbids armed guards to be present when distributing monthly rations of food and supplies fulfilling the agreement of a recent peace treaty. The efforts to force the tribes into submission with garden tools, calico and Bibles fail; the natives determined to maintain their territory, independence, and freedoms to their last breath. Samuel becomes entangled in the orders from his religious leaders to avoid violence and the reality that religious conversion will not happen, that war is inevitable, and that force is the only way to destroy the will of the tribes.

Samuel looked all about himself on the bare plains and thought what a miracle of endurance it was to live like this solely on God’s bounty, on whatever came to hand, in this sere country… People of great courage and fortitude, born with an unsatisfied wanderlust… And he must bring this to an end. That was his job. That was why he was here.

The Comanche and Kiowa leaders and warriors -unduly cruel, seemingly heartless, devoid of civilized morality, and terrifying to behold – are justifiably distrustful of the “Americans” and their threadbare peace treaties and broken promises.The tribes are caught between worlds; one world, that of the past, with no borders or boundaries, free to follow the seasons and the new world with its imaginary borders, fenced in properties, and self-centered landholders. The new people have brought deadly illnesses like smallpox that have decimated their ranks. The majestic buffalo, a vital resource, are being hunted to near extinction. What choice do they have but to rail against an enemy intruder?

Tissoyo said they were near the estado of Colorado… What is an estado?
The name of a place.
There is supposed to be a line nobody can see.
That’s right.
How do you make a line if it can’t be seen?
It’s only on paper.
You never know what the taibo will think of.

THOUGHTS

The book struggles a bit in the beginning but once the characters reach the panorama of Texas it takes off.

Samuel’s story is the weakest link. His character is naive and it is no surprise the tribes have no respect for him.

The unvarnished descriptions of the gang rapes, unwarranted brutality, and dehumanizing murders, necessary to authenticity, led me to the Rolaids bottle more than once.

I was most affected by the inability of some captives to return to their old life, forced by circumstance to be forever stuck between worlds.

And ending on the beauty of the author’s writing and the peace that solitude on the plains can bring, I leave you with an early morning view from horseback.

There are no mornings anywhere like mornings in Texas, before the heat of the day, the world suspended as if it were early morning in paradise and fading stars like night watchman walking the periphery of darkness and call out that all is well.

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