Saturday, June 24, 2017

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World was a book club choice but I missed that meeting and had not read it yet. In fact, I had forgotten all about it or ordering it. A nice surprise when it arrived in the mail!

Once again, I was charmed by the physical aspect of the book. I like the feel of the front of the paperback cover, kind of rough and thick. And I like the rough-cut pages, also a little thick with uneven sides. There's a word for that. I just googled it: deckle-edge. As I started writing about this, I was thinking it's probably kind of strange for me to care and like the physical things of a book like this. But then I thought it's probably not so weird or publishers wouldn't do it, right? So there you go. There are other weird people like me who are fond of books for their feel, their look and even their smell (at least in my case).

News of the World is historical fiction. The main character is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a 71-year-old man who travels around the U.S. to small Western towns where the people do not hear or read "news of the world." They often are aware, and even contentious about, local politics, but they do not hear of the news of far-away places such as events in lands like India, Ireland, England, even Chicago, and other far-away cities, "THE LATEST NEWS AND ARTICLES FROM THE MAJOR JOURNALS OF THE CIVILIZED WORLD," as Captain Kidd's posters said.

At one reading:
He read about a great windstorm in London that toppled chimney pots (What is a chimney pot? He could see it on their faces.) and then of the new packing plants in Chicago which would take any amount of cattle if they could only get them...The Captain read of the Irish pouring into New York City, ragged crowds from the passenger steamer Aurora, of the railroad driving into the plains of the new state of Nebraska, of another eruption of Popocatepetl near Mexico City. Anything but Texas politics. (p. 89)
Captain Kidd purchases several newspapers at larger towns and finds good articles to include in his readings. He tries to make his readings almost fairy-tale like, taking the listeners out of their ordinary life, to other lands and other peoples. At the readings, he passes a bucket for people to pay a nickel apiece and in that way ekes out enough to make it.

The book is set after the Civil War, in Reconstruction times.  Captain Kidd served in the Civil War and two other wars, the War of 1812 and "President Tyler's war with Mexico." He is a widow with 2 grown daughters who live in San Antonio. Until the war caused him to lose everything, he was a printer. He had his own printing press and shop, and loved being a printer.

The main storyline of the book is the story of Captain Kidd and "Johanna Leonberger, captured at age six four years ago, from Castroville. Down near San Antonio," or as she says, "My name is Cicada. My father's name is Turning Water. My mother's name is Three Spotted. I want to go home." An acquaintance of Kidd's gives him a fifty-dollar gold piece to deliver her back to Castroville. Johanna's parents were killed by the Indians who captured her, but she has an aunt and uncle who have paid to have her returned to them.

The book was a good read for many reasons. The story is exciting, the writing is good, I learned some new things about life during those times, and the subject of captured Native Americans is fascinating. In a note from the author about her research, she wrote:
Anyone interested in the psychology of children captured and adopted by Native American tribes on the frontier should read Scott Zesch's book The Captured. It is excellent. His book documents child captives from the Texas frontier, including his own great-great-uncle, and in each instance gives the background of death and terror these children endured before they were adopted or claimed within the tribe. There has not been a definitive study of the psychological strategies these children adopted in order to survive but one would be welcome. They apparently became Indian in every way and rarely readjusted when returned to their non-native families. They always wished to return to their adoptive families, even when they had been with their Indian families for less than a year.
 In News of the World, you get glimpses of Johanna's thoughts as she is surviving the trauma of being torn at the age of 10 from the only family she knows, in the Kiowa Indian tribe. Mostly, though, you read the thoughts of Captain Kidd, who grows fond of Johanna. He resists in a way, telling himself he's already brought up his daughters and doesn't want to go through that again, but there is no doubt he cares about Johanna and all she is going through. He saves her life and she is also instrumental in saving his.

I found the fact that the author did not use quotation marks for dialogue or thoughts mildly distracting, but I highly recommend this book.