According to Amazon, News of the World by Paulette Jiles was one of the best books of 2016. After reading it, I have to say I whole-heartedly agree. This novel is compelling, deeply moving, and competently renders a portrait of a largely forgotten America.
News of the World chronicles the journey of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in the years following the end of the civil war. Picture Captain Kidd as an intellectual Rooster Cogburn, who during the turmoil of reconstruction has closed his print shop and has started traveling throughout Texas reading newspapers before audiences for pay. As the novel progresses, readers find that although grizzled, Captain Kidd is remarkably sentimental about the significance of the printed word, having served in the message corps as a runner delivering messages, strategies, maps and intelligence to militia stationed throughout the south fairly early on during his military career.
However, in the winter of 1870 in Wichita Falls, Texas, Captain Kidd unintentionally crosses paths with Johanna Leonberger, a 10 year old girl who was taken captive by the Kiowa Indians after they brutally murdered her family when she was 6 years old. Captain Kidd reluctantly agrees to return the girl to what remains of her family in Castroville, Tx in exchange for a fifty dollar gold coin. What unfolds is a story of two unlikely companions building a relationship of trust, affection, and mutual understanding as they embark upon a long and tumultuous journey.
I found this novel to be one of the most profound contemporary novels that I have read. Jiles’ prose and style, coupled with her splendid storytelling and the expert craftsmanship she displays as she presents complete portraits of her characters and the world in which they live, serves to deliver a story that will live on in her readers and endure for generations. The relationship between Captain Kidd and Johanna is as profound and remarkable as it is unique. Although placed in extraordinary circumstances the bond they share seems true to life and inspiring. The blue-eyed, wild girl provides healing for an old man who has survived 3 wars in his lifetime, and vice-versa.
The two principle characters resonated with me in the best way. Even after I have finished the novel I still find myself thinking often of their shared journey, and the lessons they taught me. The novel speaks of resilience, new chances and acceptance. It speaks of re-birth as a little girl who was born to German Americans, then captured by the Kiowa and learned to accept and embody a foreign culture finds herself again struggling to fit into a world she knows nothing about. An old man who struggles to gain ground in a rapidly changing and tumultuous world. Somehow, each of them manage to find their way and forge a life in a world that seems bent on forgetting the misfits. Most astonishing of all is that two people, who have both survived unspeakable atrocities still retain the capacity for love and refuse to give up on one another.