News of the World (Jiles)

News of the World 
Paulette Jiles, 2016
224 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062409201

It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own.

Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.

Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden.

A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. Exquisitely rendered and morally complex, News of the World is a brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Salem, Missouri, USA
Education—B.A., University of Missouri
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives near San Antonio, Texas

Poet, memoirist, and novelist Paulette Jiles was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks and moved to Canada in 1969 after graduating with a degree in Romance languages from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

She spent eight years as a journalist in Canada, before turning to writing poetry. In 1984, she won the Governor General's Award (Canada's highest literary honor) for Celestial Navigation, a collection of poems lauded by the Toronto Star as "...fiercely interior and ironic, with images that can mow the reader down."

In 1992, Jiles published Cousins, a beguiling memoir that interweaves adventure and romance into a search for her family roots. Ten years later, she made her fiction debut with Enemy Women (2002), the survival story of an 18-year-old woman caged with the criminally insane in a St. Louis prison during the Civil War. Janet Maslin raved in the New York Times, "This is a book with backbone, written with tough, haunting eloquence by an author determined to capture the immediacy of he heroine's wartime odyssey." The book won the Willa Literary Award for Historical Fiction (U.S.) and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize (Canada).

In her second novel, 2007's Stormy Weather, Jiles mined another rich trove of American history. Set in Texas oil country during the Great Depression, the story traces the lives of four women, a widow and her three daughters, as they struggle to hold farm and family together in a hardscrabble world of dust storms, despair, and deprivation. In its review, the Washington Post praised the author's lyrical prose, citing descriptions that "crackle with excitement."

A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Jiles currently lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.

1973 - Waterloo Express (poetry)
1984 - Celestial Navigation (poems)
1985 - The Golden Hawks (children)
1986 - Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma Kola
1986 - The Late Great Human Road Show
1988 - The Jesse James Poems
1988 - Blackwater (short stories)
1989 - Song to the Rising Sun (poems)
1992 - Cousins (memoir)
1995 - North Spirit: Travels Among the Cree and Ojibway Nations and Their Star Maps (memoir)
2002 - Enemy Women
2005 - Flying Lesson: Selected Poems
2007 - Stormy Weather
2009 - The Color of Lightning
2013 - Lighthouse Island
2016 - News of the World
2020 - Simon the Fiddler

Governor General’s Award for Poetry,Canada (Celestial Navigation)
Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Canada (Enemy Women)
Willa Literary Award for Historical Fiction, U.S. (Enemy Women)

From a 2007 Barnes & Noble interview:

• When I lived in Nelson, British Columbia, there were three or four of us women who were struggling writers; we were very poor and we had a great deal of fun. We shared writing and money and wine. Woody (Caroline Woodward) had a great, huge Volkswagen bug—green—named Greena Garbo. When any of us managed to publish something there were celebrations. It was a wonderful time. They always managed to show up at my place just when I'd baked bread. One time Meagan and Joanie arrived to share with me a horrible dinner they had made of cracked wheat and onions—we were actually all short of food. I had just made lasagna—and they ate all of my lasagna and left me with that vile dish of groats and onions. And then we all got married and went in different directions.

• I have a small ranch that keeps me busy—two horses, a donkey, a cat, a dog, fences, a pasture—I and spend lots of time preventing erosion, clearing cedar, etc.

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye gives a clear and cogent analysis of the various sorts of imaginative narratives, among them the quest story. It does not assign value to any one type of story. I came upon Frye's The Well-Tempered Critic in college and loved it. It has the same sort of descriptive brilliance as Anatomy. It was a relief from the contemporary insistence that only the novel of psychological exploration was of literary value."

Other influential books include The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway; All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Stripped down to its bare bones, News of the World is the tale of a hero and heroine's journey. The bond that forms between Kidd and Johanna is visceral, no matter how many times Kidd near kicks himself for taking on responsibility for the wild child.... The last few pages gave me quite a sigh of relief, and that's all I'll say about how the journey of a wise old man and a wise-beyond-her-years young child turns out. I will be passing this fine book on to as many friends as possible and also think it would be a marvelous book club read.  READ MORE.
Keddy Ann Outlaw - LitLovers

This Western is not to be missed by Jiles's fans and lovers of Texan historical fiction. The final chapter's solid resolution will satisfy those who like to know what ultimately becomes of beloved characters. —Wendy W. Paige, Shelby Cty. P.L., Morristown, IN
Library Journal

In post-Civil War Texas, a 10-year-old girl makes an odyssey back to her aunt and uncle's home after living with the Kiowa warriors who had killed her parents four years earlier.... Lyrical and affecting, the novel succeeds in skirting clichés through its empathy and through the depth of its major characters.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for News of the World...then take off on your own:

1. Talk about the ways in which Johanna Leonberger's life among the Kiowa Indians has shaped her identity, for better and for worse.

2. Captain Kidd is reluctant at first to be saddled with Johanna. What changes his mind: why does he agree to take her to San Antonio? What does it say about the kind of man he is? What kind of man, in fact, is he?

3. How does Paulette Jiles depict post-Civil War Texas? What kind of place is it? Talk about the landscape and the type of people Johanna and Captain Kidd encounter. Also, consider the effects of the Civil War on the populace: is the war actually over?

4. Trace the development of the bond that develops between Johanna and Kidd. What cements their relationship? Whom do you think benefits more from the other? Or is their relationship equally symbiotic?

5. Captain Kidd makes a living traveling through north Texas, reading the news to audiences who pay to hear hear him. Obviously, the novel's title refers to this activity, but what else might "the news of the world" refer to in the novel?

6. All literary journeys follow the arc of the hero's journey. How does this novel adhere to that ancient narrative? Who is the hero—and in what way? How do both Johanna and Kidd change or grow as individuals during the course of their travels?

7. Where you satisfied by the novel's ending? Does Captain Kidd do the right thing for Johanna? Would you have made the same choice, or a different one?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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