9.24.2017

what i'm reading: news of the world by paulette jiles

After burning through several excellent nonfiction books in rapid succession, I have a small pile of novels waiting for me. Here's the first of, I hope, several fiction reviews.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles takes place in the American West, a few years after the end of the Civil War. The US South is an angry, wild, and dangerous place. Former slaves may be free according to the 15th Amendment, but white settlers may have other ideas. And the war on the indigenous peoples of the west rages on.

Against this backdrop, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a widower, a veteran of several wars, and a printer by trade, travels from town to town delivering news. He reads stories from newspapers to assembled frontier audiences, who pay a dime each for the enlightenment and entertainment.

Ten-year-old Johanna Leonberger has been orphaned twice -- once when Kiowas killed her frontier family and took her captive, then again when the US Army "rescued" her. Although blue-eyed and fair, she is Kiowa through and through.

Captain Kidd agrees to take temporary custody of Johanna and to deliver her to some Texan relatives 400 miles away, people she has never met and who have not been searching for her. The journey is long, rugged, and dangerous.

News of the World is the perhaps predictable story of the coming-together of the Captain and Johanna, but it never feels predictable. It feels very specific to these two people, who the reader very quickly comes to care about. There's some suspense, and adventure, and loss, some good guys and bad guys, but not in predictable ways. Throughout, the characters feel complex and authentic.

The story also carries a lot of commentary on how children have been viewed and treated over the ages -- often just as a source of free labour, and ever in danger of exploitation, as children the world over are today.

This is a lovely book, and also a very fast read. I see that Tom Hanks is producing and starring in the film adaptation. Do yourself a favour: read the book first.

2 comments:

johngoldfine said...

A satisfying bittersweet ending, though it was a near-run thing--whew!

Thanks for the review of a writer I hadn't known. I've already happily begun her 'The Color of Lightning.'

laura k said...

Oh that makes me happy! Several of my co-workers are reading News of the World or have put it on hold. She shoots, she scores!