I guess this novel could be called a Western novel; it takes place in post-Civil War Texas, about 1870. Seventy-one year old Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living as a newspaper reader, traveling from small town to small town in north Texas and reading the news aloud to customers who pay ten cents apiece for the privilege of hearing stories from distant places and lands. Captain Kidd, a veteran of the Indian wars and the Mexican American War, doesn’t read much about reconstruction or Texas politics since doing so might get a man lynched, especially if the news isn’t favorable to whatever political side the listeners might take. Kidd just carries his concealed (and illegal) revolver in case of trouble and tries to stay out of politics and controversies.
So, it’s a surprise, even to himself, when in Wichita Falls Captain Jefferson Kidd agrees to deliver ten year old Johanna Leonberger to her relatives near Fredericksburg. Johanna has been a captive of the Kiowa for four years since she was six, and now the girl has been recovered. But, unfortunately for her, Johanna still believes she is Kiowa, but the Indians don’t want her back and the only choice Johanna has is whether or not to go quietly to her unremembered relatives’ home in German country.
News of the World is an oddly emotional and heart-rending novel, even though it’s told in a matter-of-fact, almost philosophical, tone. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is an untethered man, a free spirit, who has lost his beloved wife, lost his printing business in the war, and who lives far away from his grown daughters in Georgia. Johanna, too, has been untethered, twice, first when her parents were killed and she was captured by the Kiowa and now again as she has been forcibly removed from her home among the Kiowa and sent back to a land and a family she doesn’t identify with or remember. As the two lost souls travel through Texas in a broken down wagon, they begin to bond in spite of cultural and language barriers, and Johanna even begins to call the Captain, Kontah, meaning grandfather. What will it be like for this wild Kiowa girl to go to live with her aunt and uncle on a clean and ordered German farm? What will it be like for Captain Kidd to take up his solitary life again without his little “granddaughter” to provide interest and a reason for his existence?
I’d recommend this book to those of you who like Texas stories, to those who enjoy thoughtful Westerns (like Elmer Kelton), to those who sometimes feel a little bit lost, between cultures, or left out. It’s a good story with a good and realistic ending, which I mention because I was afraid all the way through that the ending would either be devastatingly sad or unrealistically happy-ever-after. The author managed to pull off a great ending that is nether of those two disappointments.