News of the World: A Novel, by Paulette Jiles

A wonderful surprise of a small book this beautiful novel by Paulette Jiles will stick with me for awhile.

The main character of the book is Captain Jefferson Kidd, born in 1798 and now surviving in Texas setting up impromptu readings of newspapers from around the world, charging a dime a head to condense the important stories. It’s 1870 and Captain Kidd has seen three wars, some up close, and worked as a newspaper man in the south. While in Wichita Falls, just south of the Texas border with Indian Territory, a man approaches him with a request. The man has retrieved a 10-year-old girl from her Kiowa captors and he needs someone to return her to her family near San Antonio. Even on today’s highways this is a trip of nearly 350 miles. Kidd is offered $50 in gold to take Johanna Leonberger to her aunt and uncle. Her parents and sister were killed when she was captured. Kidd agrees.

Johanna has been with the Kiowa for such a long time that she now speaks only the Kiowa language and wants nothing more than to be back with her native family. On their long journey they come to teach each other and protect each other from a collection of strange characters, including a pimp who wants to buy Johanna from Kidd.

It’s a book filled with both wonderful and despicable people and moments of great heroism. Beyond random criminals Texas is having its own internal post-war crisis with violent disputes between southern Democrats and invading Republican northerners, remnant Kiowa and Comanche attackers, the new breed of “cow-boys”, and Spanish families who still feel they are living in a stolen part of Mexico.

Through it all Kidd remains completely dedicated to Johanna in a story that extends decades past the original quest.

It’s an incredible book and the kind of story perfect for book clubs.