Post-Civil War life in Texas is notoriously lawless. Traveling the lonely stretches of road between towns, one might be attacked and killed by Native Americans or by bandits. Strangers pulling up to a town might be confronted by “the law:” men who have taken it upon themselves to keep out Yankee sympathizers by any means necessary. Such is the world that Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd lives in. An elderly war hero, he now lives a mostly nomadic existence, traveling from town to town across North Texas to read the latest news of the world to paying audiences.
It is on one of these excursions that Captain Kidd is offered a $50 gold piece to take a young orphan girl from Wichita Falls to her surviving relatives San Antonio. Johanna was taken by the Kiowa Indians when she was six years old; now ten years old, Johanna has spent the last four years living as a Kiowa and it’s the only life she remembers. In her eyes, she has been kidnapped, not rescued.
The two of them begin their long, slow journey south to San Antonio. Johanna keeps trying to run away, but Captain Kidd is infinitely patient and kind, understanding that she is no longer familiar with “civilized” society and needs to be reacquainted with the ways of her new reality. Soon enough, they form a trust; she collects the money for his news readings, delighting in her new job, and even begins calling him Kontah, the Kiowan word for grandfather. By the time they finally reach San Antonio and the Captain has to hand her over, both are equally dismayed; her prospects with her relatives do not look good.
News of the World was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, and it’s easy to see why. It brings to mind Charles Portis’s True Grit, which I also had the pleasure of reading a few months ago. But unlike the grizzled old man/sassy young girl of True Grit, Captain Kidd and Johanna are a mellower pair. Theirs is a quieter bond with mutual understanding, and the book ultimately focuses on themes of friendship and family. As a Texan I’m perhaps biased, but I also love fiction set in Texas. I’ve had my eye on News of the World for a while now, so I’m glad I finally got the chance to read it. It’s just a really satisfying book all around.
News of the World was released by William Morrow last week; it was originally published in 2016. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.