I’m so glad I didn’t read the blurb on the cover of this book before I decided to join the tour. It reads:
“A powerful, richly realized journey… Captain Kidd belongs in the pantheon of great Western characters along with True Grit‘s Rooster Coburn and Lonesome Dove‘s Gus and Call.”
Except for the first five words in that quote, this would have put me off entirely. I am not a reader of Westerns. Nor a viewer, TV or movie-wise. In fact, while I am happy to wander into most shelves of the library, like SF, fantasy, graphic novels, non-fiction, YA, mystery, there is one aisle that I have never walked into, and that is ‘Westerns’.
So why did I pick up this book? The strength of Paulette Jiles’ name. I haven’t read her books but I’ve seen her books around and have heard plenty of good reviews.
This book is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Captain Kidd is a news reader – that is, he moves from town to town, reading out loud from newspapers, charging a fee of course. He’s a widower, aged 71, and fought in two wars.
At a reading in Wichita Falls, he is offered fifty dollars in gold to take a young girl back to her relatives in San Antonio, it is a three-week journey one-way. Johanna is no ordinary ten-year-old girl. When she was six, she was kidnapped by Kiowa raiders, who killed her parents and sister, and raised her as one of their own. She was recently ‘rescued’ by the US Army, and the Kiowa had begun to realize that having a white captive made life more difficult for them – so they traded her in for blankets and silver dinnerware.
“What was it that made the girl so strange? She had none of the gestures or expressions of white people. White people’s faces were mobile and open. They were unguarded. They flung their hands about, they slanted and leaned on things, tossed their heads and their hats. Her faultless silence made her seem strangely not present. She had the carriage of every Indian he had ever seen and there was a sort of kinetic stillness about them and yet she was a ten-year-old girl with dark blond hair in streaks and blue eyes and freckles.”
It’s not an easy job, for Johanna is like no girl Captain Kidd knows – she speaks no English, doesn’t wear shoes, doesn’t know how to use utensils etc. It’s also a dangerous road out there, one that the two of them will have to travel along for three weeks. But you know that in a story like this a bond will form, strange as it may seem, between a young girl who thinks herself Kiowa and an old man who reads newspapers to make money.
“Torn from her parents, adopted by a strange culture, given new parents, then sold for a few blankets and some old silverware, now sent to stranger after stranger, crushed into peculiar clothing, surrounded by people of an unknown language and an unknown culture, only ten years old, and now she could not even eat her food without having to use outlandish instruments.”
News of the World offered such insights into life in Texas after the American Civil War. I love all the research that went into this book – it was especially intriguing to learn of how these child captives barely readjusted to life with their non-native families and how they wished to return to their adoptive families. Jiles writes such detailed settings and authentic characters – both major and minor. Her background as a poet shines through with her evocative prose. A moving, memorable read that has made me reconsider this genre of the Old West. Maybe I will wander in the ‘Western’ aisle one day!
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.
I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.