What could possibly be more intriguing a main character in a book about Reconstruction Era Texas than a seventy-year-old retired Army captain who makes his living as a traveling “professional reader”? Perhaps a ten-year-old little girl who has spent the last four years of her life as a captive of the band of Kiowa who butchered her parents and little sister in front of her might just do it. And then if you have these two characters cross paths, as Paulette Jiles does in News of the World, you have the makings of what is certain to be one of the most memorable novels of 2016.
People in north Texas are hungry for news, and they will pay to hear it. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is only too happy to bring it to them as he travels from town to town reading articles aloud from the latest East Coast newspapers he can get hold of – all for the price of one thin dime per listener. It is, in fact, the kind of solitary existence that Captain Kidd much prefers at this stage of his life. But that all changes one trip through Wichita Falls when Kidd reluctantly agrees to transport a little girl back to the aunt and uncle she has not seen since being captured by the Kiowa. The 400-mile trip from Wichita Falls to near San Antonio will prove to be a dangerous one, one that will forever bind the old man and the little girl together.
There is plenty of old fashioned western action in News of the World: threatening Indians, shootouts with bad guys who want to steal the little girl for their own purposes, rising waters and dangerous river crossings, big-hearted women of the evening, etc., and all of it is well handled by Jiles. But what makes the novel special is the relationship that develops between Captain Kidd and young Johanna as they steadily make their way southward. Johanna has forgotten everything about her life before the Kiowa took her. No longer does she speak English or German; she has forgotten how to use a knife and a fork; and she considers the idea of wearing a cloth dress to be a ludicrous one. She is now, and in her mind forever will be, a Kiowa Indian. White men – and women – terrify her, and she wants nothing to do with them.
But Johanna senses something in Captain Kidd that calms her, a level of trust that moves her to call him “grandfather” in her own language. Soon, though, their relationship has gone way beyond merely honoring the Captain with a title, and Johanna begins thinking of Kidd as her grandfather in the truest sense of the word. And perhaps surprising even himself, Kidd grows so fond of the little girl that he would willingly give his own life to save hers.
News of the World is a beautiful novel, and it deserves to find a huge audience.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)