News of the World
Blond and blue-eyed, little Johanna is a white girl by birth. But in her heart, she’s Cicada, captured at age six by the Kiowa Indians after her parents were killed in a raid. The tribe is the only family she can remember. Now she’s been rescued by a U.S. Agent, torn from her mother Three Spotted. She doesn’t speak English and she’s skittish as a deer in November. Terrified.
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd was a successful printer before the War took his business. With his wife dead and daughters grown, at seventy-one, he’s a man without an anchor. Restless (and penniless) he’s not content to live out his life under his son-in-law’s roof. But words are his business. And so he travels the southern U.S. reading newspapers to crowds in small towns. Admission, one dime.
He doesn’t want to transport Johanna to her aunt and uncle in Texas, but the Captain knows little girls. And both have lost family–they’re traveling into a future unknown, the two of them in mourning. So he buys an old wagon with Curative Waters lettered (rather presciently) across its panels, and they start on their way.
The chapters move like cloud-shadows over the Texas plains. Captain Kidd when he was simply Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a seventeen-year-old soldier promoted in the heat of battle. Johanna, Cho-henna, with a fleeting memory of grandfather, mother, a tree near the home that was no more. Jefferson who married the beautiful Maria Luisa from an old Spanish family in San Antonio and raised their daughters in her family home on the plaza. Cho-henna, wooden and stiff, as she’s left with her German Tante and Onkle in Texas. And the Captain, Kep-dun, wearily scanning the news by a lamp he sets on the podium at yet another reading in yet another dusty town. Alone.
Paulette Jiles has written what might be the most beautiful novel I’ve read all year. By turns poetic and raw, it’s a story–and an ending–I won’t soon forget. These might be the most memorable lines in the book: “Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says, it may have nothing to do wit us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.”
Carry your news, my Friend. Carry it well.