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.
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A Heart as Big as Texas
Cookie cutter cowboys need not apply
Anyone expecting a yarn of the wild west replete with gunfights and non-stop action will be disappointed with this excellent story. The cadence, which builds up slowly throughout the course of the book, is as measured as a horse-drawn wagon. Paulette Jiles' characters are complex, multi-dimensional, and evolving as they carry the story forward, consistently teaching the attentive reader/listener valuable lessons in human character. The writing, once you are acclimated to its deliberate pacing, approaches poetry by the final third of the book, filling one with a longing for the characters and the places they travel.
I must admit, I became so caught up in the story of Captain Kidd and his charge Johanna, that I began to dread the approaching finale of their tale. Without disclosing too much, I hope, let me just say I reached the end with much relief! This was an enlightening, engrossing tale that, like the best examples of any genre, transcends the boundaries of its category to impart valuable life lessons. Most importantly, it was thoroughly enjoyable.
No review would be complete without mention of the narrator, Grover Gardner. He is a consummate performer, as essential to this experience as an excellent actor is to a screenplay. His perfect voice excels in expressing multiple emotions, languages and dialects, perfectly creating the various characters. If awards are given for narration, surely he has received some!