Thursday, November 30, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

In News of the World by Paulette Jiles, a 71-year-old veteran of three wars (1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War) has found a niche for himself, traveling through the isolated Texas countryside to bring the latest news to small towns. Captain Kidd schedules readings of newspapers and, charging ten cents a head, makes a living more or less.

After a reading in Wichita Falls, he is approached by an acquaintance and asked to deliver a ten-year-old girl to her family in San Antonio. Her aunt and uncle have offered a fifty-dollar gold piece for her return. Abducted by the Kiowa at age six, Johanna Leonberger witnessed the slaying of her parents and siblings. However, she no longer remembers anything but her adopted Kiowa family and her Kiowa ways. She is terrified and withdrawn.

Captain Kidd doesn’t want the job. The girl is wild and desperate to return to the Kiowa. The journey is long and treacherous. But he’s a good man and knows that she is better off in his care than anyone else’s, so he takes on the task.

The novel follows their journey, during which they slowly learn to trust one another. Captain Kidd risks his life for her more than once, and she understands this and reciprocates by attempting to learn to speak English and behave as he tells her she must. His empathy for her situation is heart-warming.

Stylistically, the book took some time to adjust to. All dialogue is reported--there are no quotation marks--which is annoying at first. But eventually the story fits the style. The beauty of the language shines through.

The journey comes to an end, of course, and Captain Kidd must decide between his duty to the law of the land and his duty to the child.

While the plot arc is a bit predictable, the story is emotionally compelling and it is well worth the time to travel along with these artfully rendered characters.

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