Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels throughout north Texas, reading aloud news articles of interest to the small, scattered communities of a still very wild West. The year is 1870. The Captain has lived through three wars and has no desire to see another, keeping to himself except to collect coins earned from his readings, remembering the past but always moving forward, forever restless.
One day the Captain is given $50 in gold to return a 10-year-old girl back to her only living relatives, a 400 mile journey through hostile, difficult country. Taken by the Kiowa after they killed her parents and little sister four years earlier, Johanna has forgotten how to speak English, has no knowledge of white people’s rules and manners and wants nothing more than to return to her Kiowa family.
Gradually, with patience and kindness and shared hardship, Johanna and the Captain learn to trust each other. The Captain helps Johanna re-learn English and tries to reintroduce her to the white man’s world. Johanna becomes a fierce defender of the Captain, loyal against impossible odds.
When they finally reach their destination and the Captain delivers Johanna to her only living blood relatives, he realizes that she is viewed as an unwanted burden and that her life with them will be harsh and abusive. Can he leave them with her white family, or will he find another way to rescue her?
A wonderful, complex book, News of the World frequently reminded me of Lonesome Dove (although much shorter) – an epic journey across difficult terrain through a mostly lawless land where an individual must depend solely on his own resolve and resources. Kindness and softness are in short supply, danger lurks everywhere and the weak are not given any allowance. The Captain is a wonderful character – intelligent, thoughtful and authoritative, he has a sly, dry wit and a kind heart that he keeps carefully hidden. Johanna, nearly silent at first, gradually adapts and even thrives in the circumstances she’s been thrown into – her resilience is remarkable. A lovely book about the human spirit set against a wild, untamed landscape. Highly recommended.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher explores how a lone man’s epic obsession led to one of America’s greatest cultural treasures: prizewinning writer Timothy Egan tells the riveting, cinematic story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history — and the driven, brilliant man who made them.
Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. He was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared. An Indiana Jones with a camera, Curtis spent the next three decades traveling from the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Acoma on a high mesa in New Mexico to the Salish in the rugged Northwest rain forest, documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. It took tremendous perseverance — ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate.
Eventually Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian. His most powerful backer was Theodore Roosevelt, and his patron was J. P. Morgan. Despite the friends in high places, he was always broke and often disparaged as an upstart in pursuit of an impossible dream. He completed his masterwork in 1930, when he published the last of the twenty volumes. A nation in the grips of the Depression ignored it. Today rare Curtis photogravures bring high prices at auction, and he is hailed as a visionary. In the end he fulfilled his promise: He made the Indians live forever. (description from publisher)
Acclaimed mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away recently. In a series of books set in the Four Corners area (where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet) of the United States, Hillerman wrote beautifully about the land and the people who lived there, as well as crafting complex, believable murder stories that would keep you guessing until the end. I don’t know of any other writer who could so completely capture the “feel” of a place – not only the physical landscape, but the atmosphere, the quality of light, the unique everyday qualities of a particular location.
Hillerman also wrote respectfully of the many peoples and cultures that live in the Southwest – Navajo, Pueblo, Mexican, white. While he won many awards including the Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, he often said he took the greatest pride from his Special Friend of the Dineh award from the Navajo Tribal Council.
Although he wrote more than 30 books, Hillerman is best known for his Leaphorn-Chee series. His first novel, The Blessing Way, introduced Joe Leaphorn, an older, experienced police-officer who understood but did not follow his people’s traditional beliefs in the spirit world. People of Darkness introduced Jim Chee, a young police officer who was also training to become a Navajo shaman. Hillerman’s breakthrough novel was Skinwalkers, when he brought both characters together in the same novel (they do not always get along) Their divergent views bring depth and understanding to the conflict between cultural assimilation and the pull of the old ways.
The entire Leaphorn-Chee series is recommended for their spare, evocative writing, fascinating cultural insights and suspenseful mysteries.
- The Blessing Way
- Dance Hall of the Dead
- Listening Woman
- People of Darkness
- The Dark Wind
- The Ghostway
- A Thief of Time
- Talking God
- Coyote Waits
- Sacred Clowns
- The Fallen Man
- The First Eagle
- Hunting Badger
- The Wailing Wind
- The Sinister Pig
- Skeleton Man
- The Shape Shifter