“a powerful little book… a gently told story”
What a powerful little book! I was surprised when I picked up NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles – not only for the short length (209 pages), but also the physical dimensions of the book; it’s almost a little square. But don’t let the size fool you. There is a reason this book was recommended for the Goodreads First Choice Awards.
I loved learning more about the fictionalized Captain Kidd (based on the real Caesar Adolphus Kydd) and his occupation of reading news of the world to small towns. The ‘news’ theme was so well portrayed – the importance of the written word, the printed word, communication, storytelling – and the Captain’s commitment to it in so many ways throughout his lifetime.
In one scene, the Captain reminisces about his time as a runner in the Army:
“…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 with us personally but it must be carried by hand through life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.”
Ahh – brilliant.
And I was fascinated/heartbroken/mesmerized by the affected psyche of children captured by and adopted by Native American tribes and then returned to their blood relatives. I will not ruin my favorite lines in the book – which come at 201 – for fear of spoilers – but it explains the reactions of stolen children/adoptees to Native culture. You WILL think twice about the things we value in our culture after reading this book. I guarantee it.
For those who are reader-writers, you’ll be surprised at the way Jiles tosses so many writing ‘rules’ out the window: This book doesn’t include a single quotation mark; in many instances it lacks commas, which lead to sprawling, run-on sentences; passive “to be” verbs are littered throughout; there is much “telling” in the narrative (normally those things bother me, but I glossed right over all of them, because they worked!).
This book is a marvel for many reasons: for its characterization of the Captain and Johanna. And even for the sometimes heavy-handed narrative, there is just as much ‘showing’ of emotion through small, subtle, intimate actions – displaying authentic growth of both characters. The use of Johanna’s dialogue and broken speech, itself, endeared me so much to the young protagonist.
NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles is so worth a read for lovers of historical fiction (post-Civil War), and those who appreciate a gently told story that ALSO has its share of nail-biter scenes. Recommend!
(A version of this article was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on November 3, 2016. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)