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Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles (4/5)

22 Apr

Yet another book club selection I knew nothing about and ended up enjoying. Seriously, I should let my book club pick everything I read. I’d have no idea what I’m getting into and I’d enjoy every minute of it.

Cover image via Goodreads

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Summary from Goodreads:

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

For such a short book, that summary covers a lot! I’m glad I didn’t read it before I started the book. I enjoyed the style of this book, with rather sparse writing, a very Hemingway-esque feel. It felt appropriate for Captain Kidd. He was a basic man who didn’t need much to be happy and he didn’t need a lot of words either. I’m not sure what I expected to happen to Johanna. I knew she had a sad story and I wasn’t sure how it would get better. While I liked her bonding with Captain Kidd, I knew they’d be separated in the end so I tried not to be too emotionally attached to the two of them. But it was hard not to.

I really believed these characters traveled Texas. It was easy to picture Captain Kidd, an aged war veteran who’s disenchanted with what’s happened in the land he fought for. Johanna was a spunky little kid, not too sure why some things are happening, but she adapts and moves on.

Captain Kidd was a great character. He was very open-minded for someone of his time and I like how that was explained by his marriage. I liked how he stuck to his commitments and morals, even to the point of paying for the chickens Johanna had killed. I thought he was very resourceful to read the news as a form of income. He was very smart about it as well, making sure to keep the peace in his readings and not stir up trouble. I think he’d find a way to make it in today’s gig economy as well.

The Captain’s sense of morality was something I related to. I would have paid for the chickens the same way he had. His dedication to Johanna was very admirable and I liked how much he ended up caring for her. I easily get sucked into small commitments as well so I could see how that would happen.

Paulette Jiles
Image via Texas Monthly

The shootout was my favorite scene. I liked seeing Johanna and the Captain fight together and I loved how inventive Johanna was with the shells. It made me wonder about her a bit, and what she’d seen when she was living with the Kiowa. It was the first bit of mystery we got from her. I also liked how it showed she was dedicated to him in the same way he was to her.

I disliked the ending only because it felt rushed. After so much time getting to San Antonio, it was a bit of a let down to be there and for so much to happen right at the end. Between his kidnapping and Johanna’s wedding was only a page or two. It seemed far too fast after such a slow book. I thought the ending was appropriate for the characters, though, and I was glad of that.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Grover Gardner. He was a great selection for reading this book. His voice was exactly what I wanted Captain Kidd to sound like. With his narration, the short sentences and narration were brought to life and it didn’t feel choppy. I liked how he read Johanna’s words and her learning English. It felt very real to me and I can always appreciate a male narrator who does a good female voice.

Captain Kidd’s story was about dedication. Sometimes our dedication is tested and tempted but Captain Kidd stayed strong throughout. It seemed out-of-place for a girl to test an older man in such a way but I liked that it seemed so unusual. I think it would take something unusual to make such a change in a man like Captain Kidd.

Writer’s Takeaway: As much as I enjoyed this book, one of my major takeaways is the pacing. I felt the story was very front-loaded and most of the activities of the novel took place in the early part of the journey to San Antonio. I knew that in such a short book, things would be rushed at the end after such a leisurely first half. It felt like the writer ran out of ideas, time, or energy when the end started to come so fast. I don’t think any of those are the case, but it felt a little off that way.

An overall enjoyable book and one I look forward to discussing with my group. Four out of Five Stars

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 time period of my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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