News of the World

By Paulette Jiles,

Book cover of News of the World

Book description

In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor,…

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Why read it?

8 authors picked News of the World as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I read this book because I wanted to read an acclaimed recent novel that would show the best of current Western fiction by a female author. This novel has a compelling storyline with the Captain’s mission to deliver the girl and fulfill his responsibility. It also has a great sense of time and place and is not ponderous to read.

This book contributed to my understanding of the potential of Western fiction.

Another adventure novel that will keep you turning pages. The grizzled Captain Kidd, veteran of the War of 1812, finds himself obligated to take Joanna, an 11-year-old white girl who was captured when a baby and raised by Kiowas from Kansas to her family in Texas. The journey is long and hazardous, and by the time it is over, the old man and the frightened feral girl who spoke no English are devoted to each other. 

This is one of those stories about a career I would have never considered. After the Civil War, Captain Kidd travels to Texas doing live readings of newspapers. He is tasked with caring for an orphan who is reluctantly being transported to a family she does not remember. This tells a story of an individual, Joanne, lost between two cultures as a bond is created with the elderly and honorable Kidd. This holds a vivid description of the place and time.

Although a novel, I found that this story of a man’s journey to return a girl kidnapped by Native Americans to her birth parents in Texas provides insights into the power struggles over racial issues in Reconstruction. My own research in my book showed that Texas accounted for nearly 60 percent of all the violence reported by the Freedmen’s Bureau from 1865 to 1868. And you can see why here. Factions among white people vied for power in a new world where Black voting could make a difference. Ultimately, this story personalizes the journey that two people had to make…

Tom Hanks stars in the film version of News of the World. The book is even better than the movie. Jiles is a historian. The novel is chock full of fascinating information about post-Civil War Texas. That real history upends a lot of John Wayne cliches. But the book’s true strength lies in the fallibility of its hero, Captain Kidd, and its rendering of a white child who’s been “kipnapped” then “returned” by the Kiowa, a people she doesn’t want to leave. Jiles isn’t interested in classic good guys or bad guys. She writes about conflicted people of all…

From Alyson's list on the West that twist the myth.

Yes, this is the one they made into a movie (which I will not go to see). I like Tom Hanks, but he doesn’t fit the image I have in my head after reading the book. And, as always, when a book morphs into a movie, I fear the changes that will inevitably be made, will diminish the story. So, I’ll make a bowl of popcorn and read the book again. 

After all the hubbub surrounding the movie with Tom Hanks, I was curious to read the source material. The book doesn’t disappoint, and, I thought, was better than the film (although the film was good, too.) Yet again, a female protagonist (hmmm… I sense a theme here ☺) the wild, former Kiowa captive Johanna, and her mentor, Captain Kidd, the traveling news reader. My heart was in my throat as I traveled with the two of them through 1870 Texas, and cheered for them both as they fulfilled their character arcs.

Though this National Book Award finalist is focused neither on the Civil War itself nor slavery, I devoured this book, engrossed in its depth and complexity. Set in the Westward Movement in the aftermath of the war’s devastation, Jiles's exquisite writing deals with parallel underlying themes to my own writing: the sometimes intricate conflict between morality and legality, as well as the deep and long-lasting effects of trauma. An intriguing story that explores complex issues that are timeless.

From Diane's list on little-known Civil War era history.

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