Published by William Morrow
Publication date: October 4th 2016
Jefferson Kidd is a reader. Not like you or me, but an elderly, retired Army captain who earns his living by riding through Northern Texas in 1870, stopping in towns to read the major newspapers to the townspeople. His is a solo act until he meets a man in Wichita Falls who has recovered a little girl kidnapped four years ago by the Kiowa Indians after they killed her parents. Her relatives in San Antonio have paid a handsome reward for her return and Kidd agrees to get her home, even if that home is one she does not remember. In Paulette Jiles’s News of the World we travel with Kidd and Johanna as they journey through the rough territory of post-Civil War Texas.
Kidd is almost eighty and Johanna, ten. Add in the fact that she has been raised by the Kiowa for the last four years and no longer speaks English and you have a communication problem. Thankfully, his years alone have made Kidd comfortable with silence and his quiet nature soothes Johanna, alleviating her fear and giving her back childish curiosity so that, slowly, she begins to communicate and take an interest in life around her.
News of the World is a novel of a time that felt as out of control as many of us feel about America now. Texas, after the Civil War, was lawless and fractured so Kidd’s determination to fulfill his mission to get Johanna back to the only family she has left makes for intriguing reading. By going inside Johanna’s mind Jiles goes even deeper and presents a facet of the times that was not popular and remains largely unknown to modern-day readers—frontier children raised as Indians. Yes, her parents were murdered, but Johanna has no memory of this, only of the family and way of life that is all she knows. Her despair at having lost that and Kidd’s attempts to help her are some of the most tender aspects of the novel.
Jiles fixes News of the World in a time and place that is difficult to comprehend in today’s society. When the only way to learn of the world beyond the homestead was to go to the nearest town and pay to listen to someone read the newspapers because you can’t afford to buy them and you likely don’t know how to read. It seems like science fiction compared to our 24/7 news cycle and instant availability. In this way, News of the World is a simpler novel, but with stately prose that pins us to the pages Jiles offers an old-fashioned tale that is both compelling in its nature and lovely in its telling.