Published by William Morrow on June 20, 2017
Source: the publisher
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In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It’s 1870. Captain Kidd travels around Texas and the surrounding territories, reading to townspeople from the newspapers. On a stop in Wichita Falls, Captain is offered a job escorting a 10-year-old orphan girl down to the San Antonio area to live with her aunt and uncle. Four years before, the girl had been captured by the Kiowa tribe after they raided her home and murdered her family. The girl was adopted by the Kiowa and has been living with the tribe since then. She has accepted their ways as her own, forgetting practically every trace of her life from before. She was recaptured by the US Army in an aim to reunite her with her family.
When Captain meets the girl, she is dressed in tribal clothing, wears feathers in her hair, and cannot speak English. No one knows her name. An area lady assists by helping her bathe and by giving her appropriate clothing in an attempt to “civilize” her, but the girl is resistant to all non-Native ways. She hates the clothes and shoes.
The two begin their journey, unable to communicate. Captain knows it will be dangerous because of the harsh terrain and post-Civil War political climate, but he is determined to protect the girl. He reassures her along the way that she will be safe with him. He gives her a name: Johanna. They learn to communicate in very basic ways and soon, the two begin to understand and even enjoy each other.
I had stereotyped Captain Kidd after reading the first few pages, but I was wrong about him. I think I was expecting a more serious and maybe even grumpy, no-nonsense older man. I really was not expecting him to be so compassionate and caring. I didn’t realize he would be so good at anticipating needs of the child. I didn’t expect him to care so much about her as a person, about her hopes and happiness. My heart swelled as Captain became Johanna’s teacher. He taught her things that she had forgotten during her time with the Kiowa tribe: how to eat with utensils, how to speak basic English, how to tell time and count money. Captain was also receptive to the things that Johanna taught him. Since they spend so much time together on the long trip, the two began to form an unbreakable bond.
The very best thing about this book was the interaction between Captain and Johanna, particularly the conversations they had as Johanna became better at speaking English. They got along very well and they worked so well together, particularly during a few precarious situations that arose while they were on the trail. I can’t remember if the growing affection between these two is ever directly stated in the text, but it is definitely a growing presence in their conversations and also in the way these two are protective over one another.
I assumed when I started this book that my favorite thing about it would be the the setting and the landscape. And truthfully, had the relationship between Johanna and Captain not been so perfectly written, the setting would have been my favorite part of the story. It leaps off of the pages. This book has the very feel of South Texas and dust and guns-blazing and watching for raiders and thieves on the trail.
If I could change anything about the book: I would love to know more to Johanna’s backstory. I’m curious about her time with the Kiowa, and of her recapture by the US Army. This isn’t necessary to the story, though, and is more of a curiosity of mine than a criticism. This story is fantastic as it is.
An observation worth mentioning is that there are no quotation marks to mark dialogue between characters. I usually avoid this when I choose books to read but in this case, I didn’t realize this book was written this way. I’m so glad because I probably would have avoided it and missed out on an amazing book.
Ultimately, I was not expecting to become so attached to Captain Kidd and Johanna. I thought this was a book about their journey, and it was. But I quickly learned that this book was mostly about relationships and family and trust. I tried to be strong as I read, but the bond that these two formed eventually moved me to tears. Their interactions were candid yet so beautifully written.
ABOUT PAULETTE JILES
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. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.
Find out more about Paulette at her website.