News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Picking up my second book in the 24in48 challenge, I left The Tilted World’s 1927 Mississippi Delta and entered 1870 Texas where Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd was returning 10-year-old Johanna Leonberger back to her family. Johanna had been kidnapped by Kiowa warriors when they killed her German immigrant parents four years earlier.

Capt. Kidd, a Civil War veteran and widower who once ran a newspaper, now travels to middle of nowhere small towns in the South reading news from around the world to people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it for the small fee of a dime. At one of his readings he agrees to take Johanna off the hands of an Indian agent for a $50 gold coin and make the long journey to San Antonio. Johanna has completely adopted the Kiowa as her family and has no memories of her life before the kidnapping. She speaks no English and no longer understands or trusts the white man’s world.

This is Reconstruction Texas of the Old West so there are gun fights, corrupt government officials, violent Calvary members, ambushes, and harsh landscapes with long horse wagon travelled distances between towns – the journey from Northern Texas to San Antonio will take them several days. The grandfatherly “Kep-dun” and his charge soon develop a bond that only deepens as they travel.

Upon arriving at the German enclave just outside San Antonio, he takes young Johanna to her cold, childless aunt and uncle who ask his confirmation that the child will work hard and pull her weight on their farm. Uneasily he leaves her with them but soon returns to rescue her from their abuse.

Jiles’ novel is a poetically written piece of historical fiction and Captain Kidd is an authentic character. The surrounding characters fill in his story with rich details and color. The era evoked and the landscapes drawn will haunt you longer after you finish the story.

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