News of the World by Paulette Jiles


An appealing audiobook on several counts, News of the World interestingly inhabits a different time. It is set in Texas shortly after the Civil War when a reader with a good suit could make his way by traveling to small towns and bringing the news from far off places for ten cents a person. International news was best in order to avoid the strong partisan views on local issues in some localities. The main character, who had the unlikely name of Capt. Thomas Jefferson Kidd, had been a printer, but the war had ended that. His children were grown and his wife had died, so the 71-year-old traveled to small towns around the state entertaining audiences with news.

He was approached by a black man he knew who was charged with returning a 10-year-old girl to her distant relatives for $50 in gold coin. The girl Johanna had been taken by Kiowa Indians in a raid that killed her family when she was six-years-old. Capt. Kidd was asked to take on the task because a black man would not be able to travel across the state with the child. It wasn’t an easy task for Capt. Kidd as they encountered flooding, a three-some intent on kidnapping Johanna, and an audience at war with each other. Johanna had become a Kiowa and while she was a good partner in the gunfight they had, her table manners and her English had suffered. The story of their growing understanding and their partnership is an appealing one and manages not to be overly sentimental. Returning Johanna to her relatives is complicated by the unworthiness of that family. And like the gunfight, the outcome is predictable.

Paulette Jiles, News of the World, William Morrow, 2016, 224 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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