Captain Jefferson Kidd is a widower whose daughters are grown and gone. He was a soldier and a printer. Now retired from both professions, he's an itinerant news reader traveling through small towns reading articles and bringing news of the outside world to remote places in Texas. When he encounters a good man he knows in one of the towns, he agrees to take on returning a ten year old girl, a captive of the Kiowa for four years, to her aunt and uncle many miles away. The young girl, Johanna, doesn't speak English and has forgotten German. She doesn't remember life before joining her Kiowa family and she desperately wants to be returned to them. As they travel towards the white family she doesn't remember, Johanna and "Kep-dun" come to a fragile trust in each other. Kidd is weary and feeling his age. Johanna is fierce in the stoicism learned from her Native family. But ultimately they come to be each other's family, grandfather and granddaughter, on the long road, offering respect, protection, and concern for each other.
Jiles has written a slow, deliberate, and beautifully written character study here. In this novel, that sometimes has the hypnotic feel of sitting in a saddle and creaking back and forth along a trail, she has drawn a tale that captures the time, just after the Civil War when tensions were high, and the place, a Texas where the law was sometimes markedly absent, so very well. The characters of Captain Kidd and Johanna are spare and yet full. Kidd's careful selection of the news pieces for each stop on their journey to the Leonberger homestead tells not only the news of the world far from the towns they visit but also very much about the towns themselves. Told almost entirely from Kidd's perspective, with only small insights into Johanna's thoughts, the narrative leaves the child fairly enigmatic but gives the reader more insight into the goodness and personality of Kidd. The novel is quite short, muted, and quiet, despite a couple of scary situations, and it maintains a feeling of rightness and inevitable fatedness throughout its pages. It is not a wild western but a measured, almost hushed, lovely piece of work.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.