Thursday, January 28, 2016

News of the World - Paulette Jiles

We tend to think of history in rather finite units, as if each event or crisis was limited to a number of years or physical location wholly independent of other events. As such, it is often the connections that astonish us: the realization that the 1890s saw not only Indian massacres (Wounded Knee) and a gold rush (Klondike) but also early automobiles and moving pictures: things from seemingly different times. Add to those events the thought that this was when Sherlock Holmes and The Time Machine were published, the Olympics were reinstated, and yet the American Civil War had ended a mere 25 years before.

Into some version of this post-Civil War America, Paulette Jiles has drawn a picture of Texas and how the advance of technology meets the Old West. With the wireless telegraph making international news closer than ever before, it might be tempting to think the world was a newly modern place as a whole. In many areas, however, news of the world may as well have been fairy tales for how fantastic it seemed.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living by traveling through Texas, reading national and international news to a paying audience. He is feeling his age, and wants nothing more than to put war behind him and live a peaceful life. This is not to happen yet, however, as he soon finds himself faced with a challenge: transporting a young orphan girl to her relatives from whom she had been kidnapped by Kiowa raiders four years before. Ten-year-old Johanna has no interest in leaving her Indian family—she has no memory of life before the Kiowa—but she doesn't have a choice: the Kiowa have traded her in for some much needed supplies and the promise of peace.

I came to love Cpt. Kidd and the way he cared for Johanna. I loved how his mind would wander back to memories of his wife and thoughts of his daughters and forward to what his future might hold. I loved the sights and sounds of the Old West, a land fraught with tension and resentment and a severe lack of leadership. I loved the peek into the Kiowa approach to life and watching Johanna's strengths and weaknesses. I loved the writing. It was a perfect combination of action and introspection.
Loss of reputation and the regard of our fellow persons is in any society, from Iceland to Malaysia, a terrible blow to the spirit. It is worse than being penniless and more cutting than the blades of enemies.

In many ways I was reminded of True Grit while reading this. Every character was unique and vivid, and yet a certain spare, desolate quality permeated the landscape. Small in size but big in heart, this book is one to share and reread.


  1. Is this nonfiction or fiction? It sounds fascinating.

  2. Whoops, I guess I forgot to mention that! It's funny, because I felt while reading it that it was based on a real person - a well known one even - but it turns out it's just fiction. I usually look at the copyright page to make sure but I got absorbed and forgot. :)


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