Book Review: News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
By Julia Padgett
Jiles, invoking an element of True Grit, sends us on an adventure though post-Civil War Texas. Captain Kidd, an elderly gentleman that now makes his living by reading news to the public throughout small towns in North Texas, is pressed (and paid) to return a young orphan girl who was made captive by the Kiowa tribe 4 years prior. The girl, now ten years old, speaks no English, and wants desperately to return to the only life she remembers, that of her Kiowa family. The Captain’s constant refrain of being too old for this is understandable considering the 400-mile journey not only means crossing terrain of swollen rivers and inhospitable weather, but navigating raiders, possible attack by Native Americans, a child sex ring bent on capturing the young girl, potential hunger, and the ever present fear of a broken wheel on his “Restorative Waters” wagon. As the “Kep-dun” and young Johanna begin to learn to communicate with each other, her fears ebb and her trust in the old man deepens. Jiles has a poetic, sparse hand with the language and description. Flashbacks to the Captain Kidd’s previous help pull you into his story and your trust in him starts to build with Johanna’s. There is some violence in this book, but it is fitting of the time and place and not explicit. Overall, it becomes a story of what family can come to mean. Beyond being a story of Western survival, which it is, the small novel is more about connection, faith, and doing the right thing in the face of staggering odds. There is little dialogue which quiets the world and journey; you are very much in an introspective space with the Captain and Johanna as they make their way to San Antonio. This lets you soak up the history, landscape, and lives that News of the World moves though. It is a beautiful story that whispers and lingers long after it is done.