The Best NEWS OF THE WORLD You'll Find This Year

Article by Jeremy

The high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing glides out of the central station. We pass the distinctive Chinese buildings fast, and then faster, speeding out of the urban din. I imagine what the countryside will look like, anticipating dramatic Asian art inspired mountains or rice fields. Instead, about an hour out of the station, when the city and the suburbs finally begin to subside, the countryside seems more familiar than not.

I’ve brought along an advance copy of NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles to read on this segment of my journey. I’m not very excited about it.

I’m from Texas, born and bred, but I’ve done my best to resist the stereotypes. I don’t own boots, country music has little appeal, and I don’t like westerns. On its face, NEWS OF THE WORLD looks like a western, and a familiar one at that:

Captain Kidd, an aging Civil War veteran who makes his living by reading newspaper articles aloud to rural communities around Texas, agrees to return a ten year old girl to San Antonio four years after she was captured by the Kiowa Indians. The girl, Johanna, has forgotten her life before and doesn't want to go back. The trail is dangerous and fraught with peril.

I start to read. “Wichita Falls, 1870.” The book already feels old fashioned. Paragraphs meander in the same way my grandparents would meander telling stories about their grandparents. I want a story that moves! But this doesn’t seem like a book that is going to move fast. Still, old-fashioned or not, there is something deeply familiar in the storytelling. I am completely drawn into the tale.

When reading books about Texas, I am strangely concerned with geography. Nothing is more irritating when characters travel from Lubbock to Beaumont in thirty minutes. NEWS OF THE WORLD is a tour of post-Civil War Texas. And while I am on my high speed train, traveling the equivalent of Dallas to Chicago in just under five hours, Captain Kidd and Johanna’s journey will take months of hard travel through familiar locales in unfamiliar times.

Halfway through the book, we arrive in Beijing. I put it away, preparing for my own adventures in strange new landscapes. But when we are done exploring the city and on our way back to Shanghai, I’m not so interested in staring out the window. I realize that, as we were touring the sights, questions about NEWS OF THE WORLD were buzzing in the background.

As I said before, the book felt old fashioned at the start, and the story familiar. I felt certain I knew how the story would turn out: the good guys would make some sacrifice to win and the bad guys would fail and be punished for their sins. But the genre tropes fade in the first quarter of the book. The extraordinary element that emerges is the relationship between the Captain and his ward. Without even noticing, I fall in love with them both.

In the final pages, I am entirely uncertain how the story will end (and not entirely certain that I want it to be done.) After the climax of the journey had concluded, I reach a line that makes me burst out in tears, much to the chagrin and concern of those seated around me. I can’t help myself. It isn’t so much that the story is sad. Moreso, it’s the fierce complexity of a happy moment powered by melancholy and loss. If that’s not a sign of brilliant writing, I don’t know what is.

When our long journey is concluded, and we are back home, safe and sound, NEWS OF THE WORLD continues its hold on my imagination. I am so excited to see it recognized by the National Book Foundation on the long list of National Book Award contenders. It is a masterful book and deserves all the praise that will be heaped upon it.

News of the World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062409201
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow & Company - October 4th, 2016

Paulette Jiles will launch her book tour at Brazos Bookstore on Tuesday, October 4.

Article Type Terms: