Skip to main content

News of the World


News of the World

Readers might expect a novel taking place in Texas in 1870, following a hero named Captain Kidd, to conform to the conventions of the Western genre. And while NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles is set in the harsh, dangerous and uncertain world of the post-Civil War west, and though it centers on a nomadic and often forlorn and lonely character, it defies easy classification while celebrating some of the great characteristics of the Western style.

In his early 70s and having lived through the third war of his lifetime, retired army man Jefferson Kidd, mostly referred to as The Captain in the novel, makes his living by travelling through northern Texas reading newspapers to information-starved and curious audiences. His readings require not just eloquence and fluency but a keen awareness of the beliefs, prejudices and interests of those who pay to hear him.

"Jiles’ language is powerful,  spare and lovely, a seeming expression of The Captain’s personality.... NEWS OF THE WORLD is a contemplative novel, examining self, community, love and courage."

One winter evening, after reading about the Fifteenth Amendment to a crowd in Wichita Falls, The Captain is approached by three men of his acquaintance: they have a particular job they’d like him to take on. They lead him to a wagon, and in the back he finds a young girl, very thin and with bright blue eyes. She is 10-year-old Johanna Leonberger, infamously captured in a Kiowa raid in Castroville four years prior. The Captain is to return her to her family, an aunt and uncle who live a three-week journey away from Wichita Falls. The Captain is hesitant yet compelled. And there is no one else who can be trusted to safely return Johanna to her kin. So the two set off, across a treacherous landscape where the bandits, outlaws and small-town residents are more dangerous than the elements.

Before their journey to Castroville begins, Johanna is scrubbed by local women, her Kiowa deerskin dress decorated with elk teeth, and the feathers in her hair discarded like garbage. Johanna, or Cicada as she thinks of herself, does not want to leave her Kiowa family. But the Kiowa are beginning to return children taken in raids as it is proving too dangerous to keep them. Johanna’s character represents the conflict between the native inhabitants and the new settlers in the American west. She embodies the best and the worst of each culture. and is asked again and again to create an identity based on one and the wholesale rejection of the other.

On the road together, The Captain and Johanna form first an uneasy alliance based on necessity and then a close emotional connection based on feelings of admiration and affection. The journey itself encompasses the world that The Captain and Johanna know: a diverse wilderness, towns new and old, the clash of cultures as well as the possibility for creative coexistence and respect. As they travel together, the pair confront their pasts, their identities, and their hopes for the future. Each wrestles with the meaning of family and acceptance. Each must decide whether or not to act in a way that brings them contentment and peace and whether or not to resist the norms and expectations of the world in which they live. And, of course, both The Captain and Johanna transform in several meaningful and even difficult ways.

Jiles’ language is powerful,  spare and lovely, a seeming expression of The Captain’s personality. She writes with a blend of realism and an optimism that is difficult to achieve, and she does it quite well. NEWS OF THE WORLD is a contemplative novel, examining self, community, love and courage. It employs many of the features of both the western and historical fiction genres, but transcends them with a literary style, universal themes and finely drawn three-dimensional characters.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 7, 2016

News of the World
by Paulette Jiles

  • Publication Date: June 20, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062409212
  • ISBN-13: 9780062409218