I was intrigued by this book both because it was a National Book Award Finalist for 2016, and because it is historical fiction set in Texas.
It's 1870, Reconstruction in Texas, and widower Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who fought in two wars, now earns his living by reading news from faraway places in small towns in north Texas. In Wichita Falls, he is hired to return ten-year-old Johanna Leonberger to her German immigrant relatives in Castroville. Johanna was captured by the Kiowa tribe at age six, when her parents and sister were killed, and remembers nothing of her earlier life.
Like many former Indian captives, Johanna is not eager to go "home." The captain, now in his 70s with two grown daughters, is very patient with her. As they make their 400-mile journey southward by wagon, their relationship develops. Johanna's eventual chattering in broken English (with a bit of German mixed in) is especially amusing.
Author Paulette Jiles came to Texas late in life, but obviously appreciates the state. She based Kidd on a real news reader, a friend's ancestor named Caesar Adolphus Kydd. He, along with the real Britt Johnson, come from Jiles' novel about Britt, The Color of Lightning, which of course I now have to read - along with most everything else Jiles has written. Her prose is spare but beautiful - she began her writing career as a poet.
I read the e-book and, honestly, did not notice the lack of quotation marks around dialogue. So many authors do that nowadays that it no longer bothers me. What *did* annoy me was not being able to see the detail in the map at the beginning of the book (a major flaw, in my opinion, with nearly all illustrations, maps, charts, etc. in e-books). I did find a similar map at a website for the book, although the little wagons overprinted on it make it hard to see the detail underneath (click on the image to enlarge it):
Most of the places on the map (and that Kidd and Johanna visit; they aren't all on the map) are/were real places. Some are not, though. Some of the more significant scenes in the story occur in the mythical town of Durand, which is supposedly on the Bosque River in Erath County (misspelled as Earth county in the map). The location almost sounds like Stephenville (also misspelled on the map), where I work. It and the county both existed in 1870 - but the route on the map doesn't go anywhere near them.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend this short, quick read.
© Amanda Pape - 2017
[This e-book was borrowed and returned to my university library.]