Paulette Jiles is a San Antonio poet, novelist, and memorist. In this 2016 publication, she describes in poetic, vibrant wording the realities and hard times of the western frontier.
She tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, aka “Captain” and “Captain Kidd,” a “reader of the news” of the world. Captain Kidd travels from frontier town to frontier town in a wagon bought from a snake oil salesman, which has the faded letters, “Curative Waters” on its side. Captain brings news of the world to each town, reading from newspapers from New York, London, and other hub cities. He censors and edits his performance readings depending on the politics and conditions found in each town. My Oral Interpretation professor would certainly have given him an A+, for he keeps his rough, uneducated audiences spellbound by the sound of his voice.Early in this page-turner, he takes on the task of returning a ten year old white girl, held captive by the Kiowa since she was a tiny child to her relatives in a small Texas town. He accepts this assignment on moral grounds as well as for the few pieces of gold coin that he is given. However, Johanna, the child, wants nothing more than to remain a Kiowa, having no memories of her life as a white child. Eventually, early childhood memories and language begin to surface, and she comes to call Captain “Kantah,” Kiowa for grandfather. Their relationship is the focus and theme of the book.
A sub-theme is dimes, silver dimes. This is the price of admission for Captain’s readings. They eventually save Captain and Johanna’s lives when they have to use them for ammunition. A memorable encounter in the middle of the novel is when Kiowa braves appear, and Johanna is faced with the strongest decision of her life. Will she choose to go back to the Kiowa with the warriors? Captain faces his own decision as well: What would be best for Johanna?
The epilogue is most satisfactory. Loose ends are tied up and the reader feels good with outcomes, the decisions made, and what happens to characters he/she has come to love.
This is definitely a 5 out of 5 points book, which has action, excellent characterization, and an appeal that will keep you up late reading.