“News of the World” by Paulette Jiles is an engaging historical fiction “road trip” set in 1870’s reconstruction era in Texas. It centers on a young, blue-eyed blond German girl, Johanna, whose settler family was killed by Kiowa Indians. She alone was spared death at age 6 and was taken to live with the Kiowa tribe and re-named Cicada. By age 10, when her assimilation into Native American culture was rock-solid, the US Army retrieved her from her Kiowa mother and father to be sent back to surviving German family. The smart, savvy, skeptical, angry, scared, confused and strong-willed Cicada wanted none of it. And she wasn’t one bit interested in becoming “re-civilized” for white culture either.
Enter Captain Kidd, a 71 year old recent Civil War Vet. A well-intended traveler who makes his way from town to town reading outloud world-wide newspaper stories to audiences of isolated and/or illiterate customers for a dime a piece. Since he’s traveling south anyway, against his better judgement, he agrees to escort the 10 year old “White Indian” to extended family near San Antonio. During the spartan road trip perils are encountered; including marauders trying to buy—or steal if necessary, young blond Johanna for child prostitution (1800’s precursor to Epstein 😡.)
While escorting her as safely as he could, old Captain Kidd ever- so-patiently —and compassionately— takes steps to earn traumatized Johanna’s trust. As he tries to help her recall her German and English languages (and “civilized” manners,) he gains respect for Johanna’s keen intelligence and will to live. And so, by seeing the re-seeding of human attachment and trust desperately needed for a child’s resilience, the reader is rewarded with an unusually touching connection between the Captain and the young survivor. It’s one of the sweetness relationships I’ve seen incrementally developed in literature. Both main character’s evolution was not just believable, but affirming and instructional.
Post Script: Yes, the book’s main plot birthed a movie. But read the book, too— or listen to the audio whose narrator, Grover Gardner, is very good. The novel has more depth and scope. (Aren’t books always better than the movie?) Plus, the book lets you witness Johanna’s growth into adulthood, answering many questions readers may have; the movie doesn’t. (William Morrow 2016, 2017.)