Wouldn’t you know it? What is surely destined to be on of my Best Books of 2019, and I can’t share a single quote from it because I listened to the audio version! From the beginning of News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I was completely mesmerized. I used to be a great reader of historical fiction, but I haven’t read much of what I’d considered truly historical fiction lately. This fits pretty squarely in that genre, and even more squarely perhaps into the subgenre of a good, old-fashioned Western novel. I wouldn’t call this my favorite setting for a novel, but maybe I’m changing my mind.
This is the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly retired army courier who survived the Battle of Horseshoe Bend at the age of sixteen (where he was given a battlefield promotion when his captain died right before him), going on to serve for many more years until retiring to Texas to work as a printer, marry, and raise a family. Widowered and living away from his daughters and their families, he now makes his living traveling from town to town in Texas, reading the news to anyone who can pay the dime entry fee to listen. At one stop, he is paid a $50 gold piece to transport a ten year old orphan girl, Johannah, back to her only living relatives after being kidnapped and held by the Kiowa for the prior four four years of her life. Johannah no longer (apparently) speaks English or her native German, but she and Captain Kidd learn to get along together, surviving a gun battle with evil men intent on kidnapping her again for nefarious purposes, as well as the physical difficulties of traveling the open Texas road, fording rivers, and all else such travel would entail.
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with both Captain Kidd and Johannah. He very easily slips into the role of protective grandfather, and she is such an innocent, yet wily, child. Captain Kidd puzzles over her treatment by the Kiowa; she has obviously adapted their way of life with no grief or remonstrance over her lost German ways. Kidd’s voice is wise, grandfatherly, worldly–he has lived long enough and seen enough to judge neither the Kiowa for their actions nor Johannah for her response. He mostly observes her and comes to her rescue when necessary. (For example, she escapes to bathe in the river in one place they lay over, stripping down to her undergarments. One of the proper women of the town is positively shocked by a girl her age doing this and tells a confounded Johannah so, but Captain Kidd both defends Johannah and stirs up enough Christian charity in the woman for her to later find some things to give Johannah.)
The story ends beautifully. No spoilers here, but I couldn’t have been happier with the ending. I was practically sobbing happy tears by the end.
Everything about this story is captivating: the plot, the characters, and the writing. I’d like to read this one, to lay my eyes upon the pages to take in Paulette Jiles’ gorgeous prose. I snagged this quote from Goodreads, just as an example:
She never learned to value those things that white people valued. The greatest pride of the Kiowa was to do without, to make use of anything at hand; they were almost vain of their ability to go without water, food, and shelter. Life was not safe and nothing could make it so, neither fashionable dresses nor bank accounts. The baseline of human life was courage.
And one more:
Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.
See what I mean? Beautiful!
I must also say that listening to this via audiobook was an excellent choice. Grover Gardner’s narration–the voice of Captain Kidd–made it that much better.
Highly Recommended. (2016)