A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Friday, September 3, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- News of the World - by Paulette Jiles- Feature and Review


In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

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.



News of the WorldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is a 2016 William Morrow publication.

News of the World is another book on a list of award nominees I’ve worked my way through in the last days of 2016.

This may be one of my favorites on that list, due to the historical details provided about my home state of Texas. I am familiar with every place on the map Captain Kidd visited or described in his journey across the state.

In 1870, during the reconstruction period of Texas, law and order was random and loose. The dispute over land with the Native Americans erupts in violence, with kidnapping of American women and children becoming a common practice.

Ten year old ‘Johanna’ was kidnapped at age six by the Kiowa tribe. But, now, at age ten, she’s been sold and left behind by the only people she appears to have any feelings for, or memory of.

Her plight comes to Captain Kidd’s attention while he travels across Texas, reading the ‘news of the world’ to crowds of people who pay him a dime a head for his services. He is offered a fair price to take ‘Johanna’ back to her only remaining family.

Along their long and treacherous journey the seventy-plus year old Captain Kidd forges a bond with young ‘Johanna’ and she eventually learns to trust him due to his patience and kind treatment of her.

This relationship is at the heart of the story and is what will stick in my mind when I think of all the many layers of this short, powerful novel.

“Loss of reputation and the regard of our fellow persons is in any society, from Iceland to Malaysia, a terrible blow to the spirit. It is worse than being penniless and more cutting than the blades of enemies.”

The contrast between good and evil jumps off the pages as brutality and the evil intentions of men are outweighed by good, honorable men, like Captain Kidd.

The psychological effects ‘Johanna’ endured as a result of her kidnapping is puzzling and there are no pat answers. What happened to her during that four year span of time that caused her to forget everything she had known before, including her own native language and the ability to use utensils while eating.

Her heart remained with the Kiowa tribe for reasons that simply cannot be fully explained. This part of the story is heartbreaking and I do think I will take the author’s advice and check out the recommended reading material she listed at the end of the book for insight into the psychology of those captured by Native American tribes.

The writing here is simply amazing, the intricate details of the landscape and of the characters bring the story to life with its vivid imagery.

Wars and conflicts have followed us all through history, and they always leave behind vulnerable victims, who are forever changed and no matter how well intentioned we are, those impressions may never really leave them. Sometimes all one can do is the right thing and let things develop from there, which is what Captain Kidd ultimately had to do.

While Johanna’s story is sad and poignant, as well as thought provoking, her character deeply touched me and I think I will always remember her.

This short novel packs a pretty big punch, and is definitely worth the time, even if you don’t usually read westerns or historical fiction.





Paulette Jiles is an American poet and novelist. Born in Salem, Missouri, she was educated at the University of Missouri with a degree in Romance Lanugages. Jiles lives in the Texas Hill Country on a small ranch. 

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