For reasons I can’t quite explain, I am drawn to novels that take place in the Old West of the 1800s. I like to imagine what it was like to live in the days before electricity, iPads, Snapchat, and nightly news.
News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, had an interesting premise. The protagonist, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, served in – and was greatly impacted by – the Civil War. Now, however, he is just an elderly man who makes his money by traveling around northern Texas reading the news to people willing to give a dime or so to learn what’s happening in the world and who can’t read it for themselves. His wife is long dead, and his two daughters live far away. Still, while he’s a loner, he is satisfied with his life.
One day, he is offered a $50 in gold by the United States Army to return a 10-year-old orphan girl to her family in southern Texas. The child’s parents had been killed four years earlier by Kiowa Indians, who for unexplained reasons, took the child and raised her in the Kiowa tradition. The Army rescued her, and despite the fact that she was perfectly content in her new life, decided she needs to be returned to a distant aunt and uncle in San Antonio.
Thus begins a 400-mile journey by an elderly man and a little girl who speaks only the Kiowa language. She is terrified at the beginning, but eventually senses the man’s gentle nature and eventually comes to call him Keh-Pun, the Kiowan word for grandfather. He, in turn, tries to teach her English so that she will be able to communicate with the family she doesn’t know.
While the duo has several adventures along the way south, the book turns out to not be a story about cowboys and Indians; instead, it is a story about love and kindness. The pace is slow, sort of matching the pace of the pair as they make their journey. There are funny scenes as the little girl Johannah tries to learn the ways of the white people.
The twist comes when Captain Kidd and Johannah finally reach San Antonio, only to find a couple who is interested only in using Johannah as an indentured servant. Captain Kidd makes a decision that changes his life, and the little girl’s, forever.
As I mentioned, this is not an action novel, but a novel about relationships, trust, and love. I enjoyed the book, though I found the pace a bit slow at times. Still, it is a very short book, just this side of a novella.