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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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By Mel on 10-17-16
A Heart as Big as Texas
It's been five years since Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. A veteran of three wars, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd has known mostly a life of being a soldier. With a blunt and sometimes cantankerous exterior, Capt. Kidd is also well known for his dedication to honor and duty. While the 70 yr. old's soldier days are over, the unrest goes on as the western frontier expands rapidly, destroying the traditional way of life of the many American Indians. Immigration from other states, especially from Mexico and Germany, new settlements of farmers and ranchers, have brought barbed wire fences, fights over natural resources, and the extinction of the buffalo. Kidd has carved out the new profession of *Public Reader* -- traveling throughout the settlements in Texas holding public readings of newspapers to crowds eager for the *news of the world:* "[the 15th Amendment has just been ratified] extending the right to vote to all men without regard to race or previous condition of servitude. 'That means colored gentlemen,' he tells his audiences. 'Let us have no vaporings or girlish shrieks.'" An educated and theatrical man, Kidd draws huge crowds with his colorful readings, charging a dime to read aloud the news, but nothing local which he considers opinions and gossip. As described by Jiles, he reminded me a little of the spirited wizard in the Wizard of Oz.
When no locals are willing to make a journey to return a little girl just rescued from the Kiowa, Kidd is reluctant but honor-bound to accept the calling. The 10 yr.old girl has been with the Kiowa for four years and seems a *hellion* to Kidd. With the fifty dollars he is given to make the journey, he buys a wagon, has the local Wichita Falls whores bathe and dress her, and sets off with the little *savage* for San Antonio to deliver her to German immigrant aunt and uncle. During the journey the unlikely duo share, (and it is a wild trip!) the two develop a bond that melts your heart, as you might expect. Kidd understands the girl's Indian ways, the freedom of living unfettered by the events and confines of the world; Johanna (a name the girl refuses to respond to) slowly begins to trust the white haired old man, even begins to call him Grandfather. Together they are an odd team, fighting off Indians and other opportunistic predators.
Jiles's Kidd is my favorite character in a while, a crusty but noble man that is completely without guile. His nature allows him to observe the girl and the conflicting culture with respect; slowly she begins to bloom under his care. His sincere observations and acts of humanity burn in your heart and will most likely fill your eyes with tears. When Johanna bends over with a knife to scalp a dead man, Kidd patiently explains to her the practice “is considered very impolite” among white men, and simply isn’t done. Her ability to survive, adapt, and still hold onto the practices she loves -- learned during her years with the Indians -- is written so well you understand without judgement. What this author produces is a pure love story that is beyond what you may expect. She writes the landscape and atmosphere of the times vividly -- I remember the book as if I rolled over the wonderful Texas landscape in a bumpy wagon myself, the smell of rivers and sage brush, the crunch of big Burr Oak acorns under the squeaking wooden wheels.
I first gave the book 4 stars, it's short almost like a novella, but I realized it's still packed with everything you could want out of a great read (except more of it). I highly recommend; one of my top choices for 2016 and definitely the winner for the Fall releases. Beautifully read...I think you will hold onto this and yearn for more of Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd.
121 of 130 people found this review helpful
By Dennis H Gigoux on 04-14-17
Delightful story....but not True Grit
A very uncommon book, in a day that honors vulgarity, licentiosness and power. Literature seems to have lost wholesomeness, real heroism and acceptance of other points of view. How refreshing to find a tale of old southwest told with dignity, honor, courage and hope. It has the making of a good movie. ....and no it did not remind me of True Grit as one review stated.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful