Romanticizing the past is nothing new. Most people like to think about a time when things were quieter, when the pace was slower, and when the world was a bit less complicated. However, we seldom think of the difficulties of the time (beyond no appliances and running water!). News of the World by Paulette Jiles has, at its center, a man who is seeking to make the world a bit less difficult by reading the news.
In the late 1800s, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has carved out a niche for himself. He travels through Texas giving readings of newspapers to otherwise news-starved locals. He selects the stories to be read carefully, mindful of the prejudices and mindset of his audience. For a few coins, townspeople can be connected to the wider world.
When he arrives in Wichita Falls, he is presented with a proposition. He is asked by a freighter to take unusual cargo home---a ten year old girl who was captured four years earlier by the Kiowa. Offered a great deal of money, Captain Kidd agrees to take Johanna Leonberger, who speaks no English and wants to return to the tribe, to be reunited with her original white family.
What follows is a grueling journey for both the Captain and Johanna. The Captain, who has some experience with children, works to communicate and bond Johanna. He offers her protection from both the clash of her two worlds, as well as from natural dangers. During their journey, he must also be prepared to keep her safe against those who would wish her harm. Floods, mercenaries, and homesickness are just some of the challenges of the trail. And when they finally arrive at the Leonberger home, the Captain proves that he has been transformed from a solitary man to a loving one.
Jiles knows how to create a sense of time and place. Referencing the Civil War and the struggles of America after its end, she manages to convey the sense of bleakness and lawlessness that prevailed. She is able to create a visceral sense of place and does so with an eye for detail and poetry.
Both the Captain and Johanna unfold as characters as they develop their relationship to each other. With each struggle and hardship, they learn to trust each other and to understand each other. While covering the seemingly endless landscape with nothing else to do, the two of them develop a way to communicate. He understands her desire to return to the Kiowa. She comes to understand the Captain’s loneliness.
News of the World is a delightful book about hardship, struggle, and connection. It reminded me of the old Westerns on TV, where you could count on the hero and you rooted for his success. The spare details about the characters really encourages the reader to pay attention to this compelling and touching story.
Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers and those who love a character driven tale.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina