Thursday, August 25, 2016

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved books and tv shows about settlers, pioneers, cowboys, etc. -- especially if girls or women are involved. Give me a wagon train or a soddy hut and I am there. (For example, see my 01-13-2009 post about On Sarpy Creek by Ira Stephens Nelson.) Perhaps I am inevitably a lover of westerns because my last name is Outlaw...

This character-strong novel, News of the World, by Paulette Jiles won my respect immediately. Within its first few pages, we meet Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and the 10 year-old Indian captive, Johanna, whom Kidd has reluctantly agreed (for the price of one fifty-dollar gold piece) to accompany back "home" to her relatives in the Texas Hill country. The time period is post-Civil War, but in Texas the war in some ways is hardly over. There are factions of folks still killing each other over Confederate versus Union allegiances. Traveling together in a gaudy wagon over rough trails, Kidd and his initially silent and much distraught companion encounter much danger in the form of lowdown people of all stripes and colors.

Captain Kidd is age 71, a former newspaper publisher who now makes his living as an entertainer of sorts. Who knew that reading newspapers aloud to audience-packed rooms was a form of show business in the 1870s? Anyway, Kidd is no dummy. He has been a military man. His tall and honorable bearing, manner of dress and intelligence put him a cut above most folks, though he is no snob. The captain is a widower and father of two grown daughters, so he knows something about women-folk.

Blonde-haired Johanna often steals the page from Kidd. She was kidnapped by Kiowa Indians when she was six years old after seeing them slaughter her parents and younger sister. Yet, inexplicably, as history has often puzzled over in cases of Indian abduction, Johanna for all practical purposes has become Kiowa. She walks barefoot and has just about all but forgotten the English and German languages she once knew. She is very much a warrior, ready to kill either man or beast as might be needed to survive. At one point when she and Kidd are being attacked by three thieves, she figures out how to load dimes into a shotgun, and their trajectory proves fatal. Kidd slowly indoctrinates Johanna back to speaking rough English, and as time goes on, we see how fond the fierce girl becomes of Captain Kidd.

Stripped down to its bare bones, News of the World is the tale of a hero and heroine's journey. The bond that forms between Kidd and Johanna is visceral, no matter how many times Kidd near kicks himself for taking on responsibility for the wild child. "Unfolding in gorgeous prose," as is stated in the forward to this fine novel, highlighting the book as "a vivid portrait that captures a beautiful and hostile land, and a masterful exploration of the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor and trust." The last few pages gave me quite a sigh of relief, and that's all I'll say about how the journey of a wise old man and a wise-beyond-her-years young child turns out. I will be passing this fine book on to as many friends as possible and also think it would be a marvelous book club read.

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