Likely Stories: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

May 2, 2019

Exciting story of a white child kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I am not a fan of “genre” fiction—westerns, romances, or detective novels.  However, my book club swept all that aside, and I decided—as a non-partisan coordinator—to read Paulette Jiles’ News of the World.  I read a couple of pages, put it down, procrastinated, then returned to read a few more pages, then after three fits and starts, I found myself intrigued.  Fortunately, I am glad I stuck with it. 

Although set in a seven hundred or so mile trail from North Texas to San Antonio, the novel drew me in.  The story revolves around a young girl kidnapped by some Kiowa braves after they killed her parents and a sibling.  Johanna is abandoned after a relatively short time, and Captain Kidd agrees to return her to what remains of her family.  Johanna has lost her native tongue, German, and now spoke only Kiowan.  Jiles wrote, “Captain Kidd knew, besides the other reasons, that Britt trusted him to return her to her people because he was an old man. // ‘Well,’ he said.  // ‘I knew you would,’ said Britt. // ‘Yes,’ said the Captain.  So. // Britt’s skin was saddle colored but now paler than it usually was because the rainy winter had kept the sun from his face for months.  He reached into the pocket of his warm ducking coat and brought out the coin.  It was a shining sulky color, a Spanish coin of eight escudos in twenty-two karat gold, and all the edges still milled, not shaved.  A good deal of money; everyone in Texas was counting their nickels and dimes and glad to have them since the finances  of the state had collapsed and both news and hard money were difficult to come by.  Especially here in north Texas, near the banks of the Red River, on the edge of Indian Territory”  (11).

Johnna proved to be much more than a handful.  Jiles wrote, “The women of the town of Wichita Falls gave her a blue-and-yellow-striped dress and underthings, worsted stockings, a nightgown with a lace banding at the neck, and shoes that more or less fit, but they could do nothing with her.  They were reluctant to use force on a small, thin girl with scars on her forearm and a star like a china doll.  They didn’t want to wrestle with the child, and in addition she had lice.” // Finally, the Captain took her to Lotties’s establishment.  The women were bold and virile and had tramped the roads as camp followers.  […]  They were not in the least reluctant to use force.  It cost them two hours to get her into a bathtub and washed and to dispose of her Kiowa dress” (13).

The Captain used the gold coin to buy a wagon and miscellaneous supplies.  A problem arose when three men offered to buy Johann, and the Captain agreed.  The snuck out of town in the dead of night and managed to get away.  But the three men were soon after the girl, and a gun battle ensued.  The Captain was amazed at her skills.  A bond developed when she referred to the Captain as Kontah (Grandfather). 

I enjoyed the story, with the exception of one detail.  Jiles rushed through the rest of the life of Johanna, as if she had a sudden and unexpected publisher’s deadline looming.  Like most avid readers, we do not want to be deprived of all the details of a thrilling story.  News of the World by Paulette Jiles is an exciting adventure.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!