I first read Paulette Jiles’ News Of The World a few years ago. I remember at the time thinking how much my dad would enjoy the story. He’s not a bookish man, but he is one of the best story-tellers I know. Engaging and comical, with spot-on timing. He has a bit of the entertainer about him which belies an inherent shyness. My dad also likes the news, and he’s always been a fan of westerns and cowboy culture, traits he has passed on to me. I thought he would appreciate that News Of The World is a story of a father; a father of daughters. A story of a man of immense integrity. A defender and protector of the vulnerable. News Of The World is flawless in its slim solidity. Just good old fashion story-telling, beautifully rendered in print. I’d wished my father was a reader, if only to experience this novella.
When I discovered that a film adaptation of News Of The World was set for release on Christmas day, my response was unusual. Film adaptations often fall short, in my opinion. A certain quality is inevitably lost in translation-the final product, lacking the luster of its printed predecessor. But in this case my feelings, or I should say, my hopes are different. I am actually excited to see this story brought to life on film. A second reading before the movie’s release felt necessary. I needed to reacquaint myself with the story. I decided to read it through aloud to my oldest son. Initially, he did not share my enthusiasm. But as the story developed, I noticed a shift in interest. He was amused by the choppy, staccato English of the young girl, Johanna. And during scenes of high-tension, his eyes would slowly wander from his cell phone screen toward my direction. I finished my reading yesterday. It was well-received.
News Of The World is the story of an old man, a veteran of war, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, burdened with a heavy task. He has unexpectedly been enlisted to return a young German girl, Johanna, to her blood relatives. Four years prior, she was taken captive by the Kiowa-raised in their culture and language. Johanna’s response to her rescue from the Tribe is one of anger, fear, and despair. In her eyes, the Kiowa are her family now. But despite her wishes, she must be returned to her surviving biological family. And Captain Kidd must get her there. They travel together over perilous terrain, making rest-stops in small Texas towns. Johanna bristles upon reentry into the white world. Their customs, foreign and menacing. Captain Kidd must keep a steady eye on his ward, while also replenishing his coffer by reading the news from various publications to rapt audiences-shelling out a dime a piece to hear tell of far-off places. In time, the Captain and Johanna develop a rustic form of communication, a patchwork of languages. A special bond is formed. Paulette Jiles’ minimal use of punctuation (quotation marks, commas) gives the story a lawlessness, reminiscent of the un-marshalled landscape of late 1800s Texas. Anything goes. News Of The World has been compared to another great western, True Grit. And there are definite similarities. However, I feel News Of The World leaves a deeper impression. The vulnerability is greater. The empathy, stronger. There is an understanding of human nature, forged in age, strife, and weariness. News Of The World is the story of an old man who rescues a young girl. And, in turn, she rescues him in unforeseeable ways. It’s a damn fine book.
Happy Holidays. Peace and joy be with you all.