News of the World

By Paulette Jiles

This was a different kind of read for me. I’m still trying to sort my thoughts on it, so bear with me. The time period is shortly after the Civil War, and the setting is Texas. There is a man whose job it is to buy newspapers, travel throughout Texas, and read them out loud to paying audiences in small towns who would otherwise have no news of the outside world. (Um…I’d love this job: reading to a paying audience? sign me up!)

An interesting topic for book club discussion: this guy decided which news stories to read based on the people there, and which topics were likely to stir up trouble in that town. An interesting parallel exists today concerning who decides which news is “fit to print.”

The story begins with one particular reading, after which Captain Kidd is offered a $50 gold piece to return an orphan to her relatives, 400 miles away in San Antonio. She was kidnapped by the Indians who killed her parents four years previously, raised as one of them, and then stolen away (again) from the only home she knew by the US Army.

The relationship between Kidd and Johanna is multi-layered. They travel through territory ruled by a corrupt reconstructionist government with pockets of lawlessness, while roads are flooded, weather is unforgiving, and running out of ammo for the guns becomes a greater worry than running out of food.

The story gives a view to a fascinating situation in a scene that was utterly new to me. The characters were quiet, but interesting. There are shadows of the old Western novels and movies, but somehow, this book is more intellectual. It’s somehow removed from anything that might be like it, just as the hero is removed from every town he visits.

It’s a short book (and literally, a smaller book, size-wise) and reads quickly. It didn’t blow me away, but it provided a wonderful visit to a time and place far removed from my life today. It was a National Book Award finalist, so there are others who find it worthy as well. 3.5 stars with a bonus because it’s one of those “good for you” reads. Grab a copy here.

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