Throwback Review: News of the World

Title: News of the World

Author: Paulette Jiles

Published: October 4, 2016

Recommended by: Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club (There are some great picks coming for fall, and if you want to sign up, it’s open until September 5!)

Synopsis (from Goodreads): In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

My Thoughts:   News of the World takes place in post-Civil war Texas.  Captain Kidd is a traveling newspaper reader (this was apparently a real thing back then…) who is tasked with returning Johanna, a ten-year-old girl who had been captured by the Kiowa, back to her family after she is rescued.  Johanna had been with the Kiowa for several years and had completely taken on their language, culture, and customs.  She had forgotten her white family and had forgotten how to speak English.  She didn’t want to be rescued and certainly didn’t want to be returned to what family she had left (the Kiowa had apparently killed her parents and she was to be returned to an aunt and uncle).  Captain Kidd reluctantly agrees to return Johanna back to her family and they go on a dangerous wagon road trip through Texas to get her there.  They meet some serious obstacles on their way, and Kidd and Johanna come up with some really creative solutions to overcome them.  Despite their difference in age and the huge language barrier, Kidd and Johanna forge a really special bond.  When they finally make it to Johanna’s aunt and uncle, Captain Kidd has to make some really difficult decisions about both of their futures. 

I read this book back in January for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, so I had to do a little digging to remember exactly how I felt about it!  For some reason, I remember that I enjoyed the book, but when I look back on my notes from just after reading, it looks like I was pretty ambivalent about it!  Maybe this is one of those books that I needed to sit with awhile before I really decided how I felt.  I read recently that the book was being made into a movie and I got really excited, but when I compare that with some of my discussion notes, I’m super confused!!! 

My original rating was 3.5 stars, and I mentioned that I wasn’t sorry I read the book, but it wasn’t going on my favorites list.  I do remember that this book had a slow pace overall, and when it picked up, the plot involved some gunfights and “Wild-West” scenarios.  Some people are really into the Wild West…I’m not so much.  I listened to this on audiobook and the narrator did a wonderful job; so much so that he got me through the rest of the book; had I been reading this on paper, I probably would have abandoned it if I didn’t have to finish it for book club. 

I won’t give any spoilers, but I did enjoy seeing (hearing?) the relationship between Kidd and Johanna evolve.  I kind of feel like the best word to describe this whole story would be “nice” or “heartwarming,” and I feel like the ending fit that. Sometimes it is “nice” to have a happy ending neatly wrapped up in a little bow.  If it fits the story, I’m okay with it, and I think it fit in this instance.

So despite my ambivalence about the book itself, I do think  it would make a great movie and maybe that’s why I was excited to see that it will be made into a movie starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd.  (He’s perfect for the part, in my opinion). 

Bottom line: this is a nice, quick, little heartwarming story.  It takes place in the Wild West (not my thing usually, but if you’re into that, you will probably enjoy this book more than I did).  I think it was much better on audiobook than it would have been on paper, but I was still pretty ambivalent in the end.  And I’m looking forward to the movie.  I have no idea how helpful this review will be to anyone, but there you go. 

Rating: 3.5/5

3.5 stars

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