At the open of Paulette Jiles’ NEWS OF THE WORLD, we meet Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. a widower with two grown children. He has served in two wars, lost his printing press after the Civil War, and now drifts through North Texas reading newspapers to audiences who are hungry for the news of the world. For a mere ten cents, people can listen to him read news from all over the world.
The year is 1870, and Captain Kidd is offered $50 to return Johanna, a young orphan girl to her relatives near San Antonio. Four years earlier, the girl’s parents and sister were killed by a band of Kiowa Indians, though they spared Joanna and raised her as their own. The US Army recovered Joanna, and now they would like Captain Kidd to return her to her relatives near San Antonio.
In a mere four years, Joanna has completely forgotten her birth language, her parents, her people, her religion, and her alphabet. She longs to return to her Kiowa family. She is fearful of the Captain but as they make their way across unsettled territory, facing thieves, Comanche and Kiowa Indians, and the lawless federal army in place during Reconstruction, she gradually learns she can depend on him and the two develop a tender, trusting relationship.
As their relationship develops, Captain Kidd worries about Joanna’s ability to reintegrate into a family and society she no longer remembers, and he questions his role as the man who must return her.
“Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born, and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally, but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end, handed over, sealed.”
Paulette Jiles vividly brings to life the lawless Texas frontier of the 1870s and juxtaposes it against the noble Captain and his touching relationship with Joanna. You will want to read it through in one sitting but spare your nerves. There are gunfights and outlaws and villains aplenty in NEWS OF THE WORLD, but you will be heartened by the spirited duo that traverse the four-hundred-mile journey together to find their place in the world.
I recommend NEWS OF THE WORLD to fans of historical fiction, Westerns, and literary fiction.