News of the World: A Novel
By Paulette Jiles
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has accepted the responsibility for the delivery of a young orphan, Johanna Leonberger, to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna has been raised by Kiowa Indians, the tribe which is also responsible for the brutal slaying of her family, but she is reluctant to leave her Kiowa family behind. Captain Kidd is an elderly widow, a man who has survived war and now travels the region, reading the news to crowds who gather to hear him.
Kidd knows that his mission is a risky one: he is an old man travelling with a young, female child who does not seem to speak English and who very clearly does not want to come with him. As the days pass on the road, however, Johanna and Kidd come to an understanding that steadily turns into a mutual respect and deep affection for one another. Their trip is fraught with danger, from raiders looking to steal their wagon and horses, to ruthless characters looking to use Johanna for their own horrific interests. Throughout it all, Kidd and Johanna support each other, and as they grow close to their final destination, Kidd is loath to leave the girl with her aunt and uncle. He’s a man who has raised a family, a man of conscience who knows that Johanna needs her own family – but in the end, what is family?
News of the World is a perfectly lyrical and evocative story about the dreadfully brutal years that followed the Civil War, particularly as the United States expanded westward. Lawlessness was to be expected, and travel between larger cities was dangerous at best. This novel puts much into perspective, from the dependency and reliance on the good nature of fellow travelers, to the ugliness of human spirit that is still seen today. Paulette Jiles writes with such clarity and empathy that Kidd and Johanna transform from characters on a page to characters one can envision in an old-time John Ford western movie, with sweeping views of dry prairie hills and the winding, dusty road ahead. Emotional and haunting, News of the World is one of the best books of 2016. Don’t miss it.
Joyce Greenfield, ReaderToReader.com