Summary: An elderly man (former newspaper man, former military courier, current newspaper reader) gets roped into transporting an orphaned girl that was kidnapped 4 years previous by Indians to her extended family.
I picked News of the World up when it was on sale because it was on John Wilson’s list of best books of the year. It is short, just over 200 pages, but a complete story.
I do not read a lot of westerns because there are not that many being written these days. But my teen years were full of Louis L’Amour and other western authors. The rugged individualist that lives by their code of honor and saves those that are weak against the evil powerful is not necessarily a bad theme for a teen boy. That theme today does not really interest me.
This will have to be inevitably compared to True Grit, which I really liked. Both have the old man that doesn’t really want to help. Both have the young girl in need of help, but surprisingly capable for their age. Both have the reluctant affection that develops between them.
But News of the World is a different story. There is no revenge here. There is just a struggle to survive in a land that is fairly lawless and where ‘the law’ is as dangerous as the blatant thieves. The Civil War is over, but its ramifications are still widespread. The Mexican rule over Texas is over, but the integration into the US is far from complete.
Johanna, the girl, has spent the last four years living with the Kiowa Indians after they kidnapped her and killed her immediate family. She knows nothing else. She has forgotten her language (which was German, not English). And she has adopted the Kiowa culture. As the story makes clear, she was ripped from her family, not once, but twice. And the family she is being brought to is completely unknown.
Captain Kidd is 71 years old. His life has not gone well these past few years and he makes a living the only way he can, by traveling around rural Texas and reading the news to isolated people. His wife has died, his daughters are grown and not around. He is not particularly interested in the very long trip (over 400 miles when 20 miles is a long day). But he has compassion on the wild child.
The story is not particularly unique or surprising. But the language is enjoyable and the prose nicely spare. It feels a bit like a less depressing Cormac McCarthy in the way it is written. News of the World was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award and I am certainly glad I read it. It is a book I would recommend. But it isn’t the ‘book of the year’ level that I expected going in. But that is probably more about the excessive hype than the weakness of the book.
The audiobook was narrated by Grover Gardner, who was an excellent choice. He is one of my favorite narrators and his aged sympathetic voice works really well. But I am glad I read a little bit of it on kindle and I was glad I did. The spareness of the text, the lack of quotations and some of the other stylistic choices needed the text instead of the audio.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook