I first read The News of the World by Paulette Jiles several years ago. Apparently at that time, I did not discipline myself about writing a review for each book I read. I regret not writing about The News of the World, but I have reread it now and will rectify my earlier mistake. The book provides pure joy to a reader—suspense, sparse landscape, and characters for whom we develop affection.
The Civil War has ended. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has been in too many wars and has lost his printshop to conflict. His wife died, and his daughters grew up and married, starting lives of their own. Captain Kidd travels throughout the rough Texas landscape stopping to read the news from newspapers.
A Black man he knows who trades in goods and takes them from place to place asks Captain Kidd to take Johanna, a ten-year-old girl who has been rescued from the Kiowa Indians, back to her home in San Antonio. At the moment, Kidd is in north Texas, so the trip will be long and over dangerous territory. Reluctantly, he agrees to take the girl to her aunt and uncle. Johanna’s parents and younger sister all died in a Kiowa raid on their farm.
Johanna has no memory of her former life and she desperately wants to go back to her Kiowa family. She is mistrustful of the white people around her and she looks for any way to escape. Captain Kidd must use all of his wits to keep her with him and keep her safe. He wins her trust, but it is not easily or quickly won.
Jiles describes Captain Kidd and Johanna’s journey with all the pitfalls. They encounter criminals including a man who wishes to buy Johanna to put her in a brothel. Kidd must use his own cunning to outwit the man and keep Johanna safe.
Soon Johanna is helping Captain Kidd as he gives his readings in the towns where the stop, for he must continue to earn money to keep them moving toward San Antonio. He puts up flyers, rents a hall, and Johanna watches the paint can where people put their nickels as payment for the reading.
The pair finally reach San Antonio and locate Johanna’s aunt and uncle, two sour-faced people who live on a farm. They say they will take Johanna in and that she will work for her keep. Kidd leaves Johanna there even though he has a bad feeling. Still, what can he do? He travels the harsh trails all over Texas. How can he take care of a ten-year-old girl?
Before he leaves San Antonio, he goes by Johanna’s aunt and uncle’s farm. What he sees makes him angry. Without giving away what happens next, I will simply say that Paulette Jiles has created a story that will haunt readers because it delves into the deepest of human emotions and strikes home with what it means to be a family.
Paulette Jiles, http://paulettejiles.com/, is not only a novelist, but she is also a poet. She wrote a memoir called Cousins. Her newest novel is Simon the Fiddler.