I read this when it came out and remembered really liking it, and returning to it a few years later intensified that enjoyment. This book lives in the short period of time right after the Civil War. We’re in Texas, and Captain Kidd is a newsreader, travelling from town to town to read the world news (trying to avoid local news as much as possible) to anyone willing to pay a dime. He’s the veteran of three wars, and Texas is currently in the throes of a dangerous governor’s race between union party Republicans and old school Democrats, and this tension bleeds through many of the interactions. Kidd is approached by someone to help return a ten year old immigrant child to her German relatives. She had been kidnapped by a local Kiowa tribe while her parents had been killed, and in the years since, she’s been considerably acculturated into the tribe. He agrees reluctantly and slowly over the course of the travels he becomes fonder and fonder of the girl, a substitute grandfather figure.
The book functions in the uncomfortable spaces of American history and refuses to give easy answers to the question of where and with whom the girl belongs. Like most of American history, the answer is simple, if you ask most people, but an honest reckoning with it suggests a nearly impossible level of complexity when really sorting through. I am most reminded here of Mary Doria Russell’s westerns in this book’s real attempts to cut through myth and narrativizing and show a sense of real people addressing the moral questions they’re faced with.