Every so often, I encounter a book that has all of the hallmarks of an enduring work of literature, with vivid characterizations, a plot with forward motion and elegant, depictive word choices. Such is the case with Paulette Jiles’ book, News of the World, a National Book Award Finalist.
As a poet and memoirist, as well as novelist, she writes beautiful prose. Her dialogue contains no quotation marks, so speech and narration seamlessly flow together.
We are introduced to Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a military veteran who lost his printing business and very way of life during the Civil War. He now makes his living traveling from town to town in the northern Texas region reading the news of the world to people hungry for entertainment and knowledge. Armed with newspapers from New York, London, San Francisco and other points large and small, Kidd makes a meager but steady living.
Enter Johanna Leonberger, a six-year-old German girl who is captured by a Kiowa raiding party after they brutally kill her parents and sister.
Kidd is tasked with returning the now ten-year-old girl to her German relatives near San Antonio. After four years with the Kiowas, she speaks no English and has become native in her dress, behavior and in her very thinking.
Though the story of an older man on a quest with a young girl or boy has been a frequent novel convention, Jiles finds an unforgettable character in Kidd, plus an intriguing geographic setting and time in this outstanding, small, but potent work of fiction. The book format is indeed smaller than most hardcover editions and artfully tells the tale of their journey in just 209 pages. News of the World should deservedly find its way into high school and college literature classes.