News of the World by Paulette Jiles (National Book Award Finalist)

In the midst of one of the most bewildering beginnings I have read, and reread out of confusion, are absolutely gorgeous sentences that made me pause:

“…now the news of the world ages him more than time itself.”

“He had become impatient of trouble and other people’s emotions.”

“If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place. He had been perfectly serious. That illusion had lasted from age forty-nine to age sixty-five.”

Soon I have made enough sense of the story to figure out that Johanna, who was captured at the age of six by a Kiowa tribe, is being returned to her aunt and uncle who live near San Antonio by Captain Kidd. Apparently, the man who had originally agreed to the job is not capable of fulfilling it.

She is a feral child, if that is what means to be unable to bear shoes, and tightly cinched dresses, and the abolishment of every adornment (including a dress with elk teeth) she had previously worn.

Torn from her parents, adopted by a strange culture, given new parents, then sold for a few blankets and some old silverware, now sent to stranger after stranger, crushed into peculiar clothing, surrounded by people of an unknown language and an unknown culture, only ten years old, and now she could not even eat her food without having to use outlandish instruments.

Halfway through the novel I know the Captain cares too much about this German girl, who lives and acts like the Kiowa with whom she has lived. We sense that his own two daughters are weak and simpering; in contrast, he seems to admire the strength and ferocity of ten year old Johanna. He feels great compassion for her situation, stolen from her German parents who had been brutally murdered, and then her Kiowa parents; now she is floundering and lost. She is one of those children, as Doris Dillon (a character in the novel) says, “is forever falling.” They both know he is her protection in an unpredictable world.

Yet, he is compelled to make their way through great travail back to her family, and we sense the bond between them growing ever stronger. A man of seventy-two, who reads the news for ten cents apiece from those who want to hear it, has become the grandfather of a girl who once lived with the Kiowa.
They make a strange pair, but who is to say what forms a family? Quite possibly the definition lies in an emotional bond which cannot be severed. Certainly it is not simply the blood which flows through our veins.

As for home, is that a place to which we are born? Or, a place to which we have been taken?

I feel that Paulette Jiles wants to make the case for the estrangement of children who had been kidnapped by the Native Americans, that somehow those children always want to return to that life instead of the “civilized” European life. But, for me the issue is more about the relationship formed by Captain Kidd in his attachment to this child. And, her attachment to him.

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12 thoughts on “News of the World by Paulette Jiles (National Book Award Finalist)”

    1. I like how you said this is a little girl who hasn’t been cinched like his daughters have. (Better he had raised them than his wife; he clearly has the compassion and understanding required to be an excellent father/grandfather.) I have bwen thinking about the book all day, especially as my book club discussed it this afternoon. I like it more now that it’s finished than I did reading it. I like that he formed such an attachment to Johanna, and that he rescued her. I’m all for children being saved…


    1. I didn’t love it, but I can see something special in its sparseness. There was much happening between the Captain and his “captive” lots to ponder about the frontier and family and Native American situation. I teach about them in my class, and we now vive ghe children a much more balanced view than my teachers gave me as a child. In the ’60s there was very much a point of view, helped along, I think, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, that the pioneers deserved the land, too. I am crazy about the Little House books, but it is certainly not that simple. Our country seems to have a history of fighting over rights, and that’s never easy to define.

      Someone in our book club had begun Enemy Women by Jiles, but I don’t even like the title. Have you read that one?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As I mentioned somewhere else (Twitter? Facebook?), my mom and my husband both loved this novel. I read it shortly after they each finished and I had the same reaction. I thought it was a terrific novel and I plan to recommend it to my book club partly so I have a reason to read it again. I didn’t know Jiles had written other books about Captain Kidd and will have to look for them. Lovely review, my friend.


    1. I think you mentioned on my Instagram account that you, Rod, and your mother had enjoyed jt. (Not sure why I have Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and a blog!😊)

      Our book club talked about it for three hours today! It’s such a little book with so much substance. You know how I feel about children being abandoned, but that was not something I could bring myself to talk about it today (or in my review).
      Suffice it to say, she discussed the issue well, and it is not relevant to only Native American children.

      I would love to know how your book club receives it. And, thank you for your kind comment. Xo


  2. Bellezza, once again you introduce me to a new book. I enjoyed your honest review, especially the quotations at the beginning. Lovely, honest review!

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  3. I did love this book. I agree that the question of family is one of the big theme in the novel, but it was about more than that one issue. Which is why a book club can discuss it for three hours. :-). From what I’ve read, many of the children who experienced this in real life never did completely readjust to the “civilized” world. This is not to say that they should not have been returned, however.

    One of my favorite things about this book is just how happy the ending way. Happy in a way I could believe. I was so worried it was not going to end well that I almost stopped reading 3/4’s of the way through.


    1. The ending was indeed a relief. I know what you mean about almost being too “afraid” to finish it. But, we could trust in the compassionate heart of Captain Kidd who would never let Johanna suffer for long. I loved their relationship.

      I could relate to the way the author described those children who had been kidnapped as falling. I often felt that way myself as a child, even though I was not kidnapped, but had other worries of my own.


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