News of the World isn´t exactly original. Jiles is not the first who has worked with the theme of a special relationship developing between the silent, aloof adult and a child. On their way to a destination far away facing danger and hardship on the road. Jiles did manage to make the story of captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran, and Johanna, taking captive when six years old by the Kiowa, enhancing.
Johanna has been returned by the Kiowa after having spent six years amongst them. They have come to realize that it is not in their best interest to have a German-American captive; it will have American government hesitate when it comes to handing over territory and livelihood. Johanna who has lost her biological parents has to say goodbye to her Kiowa-mother and is to be returned to her uncle and aunt by Kidd, who gets paid well in order to partake in the dangerous journey through Texas. Without ever pointing out things too specifically, Jiles manages to portray a country in turmoil in which law and order has not been restored yet.
Kidd realizes that Johanna will never get used to the civilized world (at least, the civilized world in our point of view) completely. Her life amongst the Kiowa’s has influenced her take on life too much for her to ever feel comfortable amongst her ‘own’ kind. She loves the roaming life, she frowns upon squandering produce, she has little awareness of ‘yours and mine’. This justified concern adds a bitter layer to the novel and prevents it from becoming just feel good.
It is evident that Kidd and Johanna survive all the dangerous encounters, not in the least because of Johanna’s inventiveness, and come to like and appreciate each other whilst travelling. Jiles surprises by occasionally unexpectedly adding Johanna’s perspective on things, which one might say has been influenced quite by her years living with the Kiowa. I would never have come up with her double use of dollars.
Kidds profession also adds a layer, at least for me. The former printer who has lost everything in the war travels through Texas. In the villages he visits he reads from newspapers. People pay for him to select interesting articles and read them aloud. A profession which is hard to imagine in our day and age. A profession that also makes you realize that a mere 150 years ago people looked upon their world in a completely different way.
Without revealing the specifics of the ending it will be obvious to the careful reader that Kidd and Johanna will stay together. Her Kiowa upbringing has made her unsuitable for the western world. They manage to settle in a nice enough life, they both know it could have been better. That is what I liked about Jiles and her News of the World, she has managed to add sufficient bitter edges to her novel to keep it from becoming mere feel good. News of the World might not be a masterpiece, it is definitely a good read.