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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I've wanted to read this author for years. I've owned copies of her books previously (including this one I think) so I was thrilled when my book club picked this. And I loved it!

In the 1870s, Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran, travels around the Western United States, mostly Texas, and read the news. He gets to a decent sized town and he rents out a local space such as an opera house, auditorium, or even a space in a general store for an evening. He goes to a local print shop or newspaper office and has fliers printed up. He posts them around town, and that evening, townsfolk arrive, pay a dime, and listen as for an hour or two he reads news from all around the world. Some of the townsfolk are illiterate, but others simply have no access to this international news. He tailors his presentation for each town, and makes sure to include flowery, amazing stories of the exotic, mixed in with stories of real news from far away places like Boston and Chicago.

One day a man asks him for a favor of sorts, which is also a job. For $50, will Kidd take a young girl to South Texas, back to her family? She was captured by Kiowa a few years ago in a raid but recently was returned. Her parents were killed in the raid but she does still have relatives looking for her. You get the distinct impression that Kidd was chosen for this task not just because he's up to the dangerous trek, but also because his very high standard of ethics and morality mean the man passing off the young girl to him doesn't have to worry about her safety in any way.

And it is a harrowing trip. Initially, Johanna seems to have forgotten all of her English, and certainly her American ways. She is scandalous to people in towns and she tries to run away and occasionally she does dangerous things. But as they travel, she grows to trust Kidd, who grows to care for her, and through their adventures, they become a tight band of two.

Post-Civil War era novels tend to focus on the aftermath of the war, not on the everyday life, the parts of the country not much affected by the war, and the people who have moved on. It is an era I haven't read much about, and this job in particular was fascinating. Kidd is a wonderful character and even Johanna grew on me quite a bit. The book starts a little slow and the language is a bit stilted so it can be hard to get into, but once you are, it just flows.

I checked this book out of the library.

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