by Paulette Jiles
This is the quintessential road trip story set in Texas in 1870.
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, 71, an itinerant news reader, agrees to help a friend, freighter Britt Johnson, deliver a girl kidnapped by the Kiowa back to her family.
Britt and his two-man driving crew are freed black men. They well know what kind of trouble will come their way if they are caught with a young white girl along the road.
Kidd, on the other hand, is grandfatherly and raised two daughters of his own. He doesn’t want to take on a wild girl who doesn’t remember her origins and wants desperately to return to her Kiowa family, but it’s the right thing to do.
Johanna Leonberger, as she was born, was kidnapped when she was six. During the raid in which she was taken, her mother was raped and then killed with Johanna’s father and sister. When Kidd first meets her, she’s 10 years old and wearing a deerskin shift with elk teeth sew in in rows across the front. Two down puffs and a golden eagle feather are woven into her maple sugar-colored hair. Her blue eyes are expressionless and she’s pulled a thick blanket up over her shoulders.
Author Paulette Jiles’ amazing story takes this unlikely pair from the Red River border of Indian Territory to Spanish Fort, Dallas, Meridian, outlaw-riddled Lampasas, Fredericksburg in the hill country, Castroville and D’Hanis, where Johanna’s dour aunt and uncle have a farm.
Along the way, they have to deal with upstanding Christian women outraged at Johanna’s wild, uncivilized attitudes toward clothing; men offering to buy her (and not above murder, kidnapping and rape, if a sale can’t be negotiated); marauding Indians; and gangs of well-liquored cowboys.
But the most fascinating part of this book is the growing relationship between an old man and a terrified girl. Her impassive face, inability to speak English and tendency to withdraw into her red and black blanket lead most who meet her to believe there’s something wrong with her.
Kidd, however, understands the traumas she’s gone through in her short life. His life has been filled with loss, too: the death of his wife, the loss of his career as a printer, the relocation of his two daughters to Alabama.
Johanna is alone in a world of strangers. In one heart-breaking scene, she tries to catch the attention of a band of Indians riding on the other side of a flooding river. They don’t understand why the blonde-haired child is calling to them. They can’t hear her Kiowa words over the rushing of the water. They ride on.
As Doris Dillon, the fiancée of Kidd’s fiddler friend Simon says, “. . . all those captured as children and returned were restless and hungry for some spiritual solace, abandoned by two cultures, dark shooting stars lost in the outer heavens.”
NEWS OF THE WORLD was a finalist for the National Book Award. A movie, based on the book and starring Tom Hanks as the Captain, was planned to open in theaters on Christmas Day 2020. It was slated to be released on Netflix in early 2021.
About the Author: Paulette Jiles (1943 – )
Born in Salem, MO, in the Ozarks, Paulette Jiles was raised in small towns in southern and central Missouri. She attended three high schools before going to the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in romance languages.
She went to work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in Toronto, far northern Ontario and in the Quebec Arctic, helping to set up small village radio stations in the native languages of Anishinabe and Inukitut.
She taught at David Thompson University in Nelson, British Columbia, and came to love the area. She spent a year as a writer-in-residence at Philips Andover in Massachusetts.
She returned to the United States permanently when she married Jim Johnson, a Texan. She has lived in Texas since 1995. She and her husband renovated a stone house in the San Antonio historic district. They divorced in 2003, and Johnson continued to live there until his death.
Since 2004, Jiles has lived on a small ranch in the Texas Hill Country, about 80 miles west of San Antonio. She plays Irish tin whistle with a bluegrass group, sings alto in choir, rides remote trails in Texas with friends.
After writing NEWS OF THE WORLD, Jiles wrote SIMON THE FIDDLER (2020). Her other books include ENEMY WOMEN (2002), STORMY WEATHER (2007), THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING (2009) and LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND (2013).