News of the World: Hope in a Brutal World.
In News of the World, the author takes us through the west of The United States in 1870, on the wild border between Texas and Indian Territory. The unlikely protagonist is 71-year-old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. Around him, the world has changed, as the civil war has just ended. He makes a living by reading out the news to the townspeople that he meets; many of them were illiterate at the time.
Captain Kidd’s occupation is much more than what it seems at first glance. He truly and deeply believes in the power of the written word. Early in the novel, Captain Kidd recalls the wars he’s been a part of and wonders if maybe there isn’t another way to resolve things without bloodshed. “If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place.”
As he travels through yet another town, he is asked to do an almost impossible task. A 10-year-old girl has been released after four years of captivity with the Kiowa people and must now be returned to her family, who live on the other side of the country. So, Captain Kidd gets an old traveling wagon and sets off to the wild with the girl.
As they go south, Captain Kidd must learn how to communicate with her. He finds out that her name is Johanna. She doesn’t speak a word of English, so their interactions are limited to gestures, nevertheless developing a relationship that reminds us of the inherent humanity in all of us and how it can overcome any cultural barriers. As they learn to trust and rely on each other, Captain Kidd (a seasoned warrior) becomes both a father and mother to Johanna, fulfilling a role that was not commonly associated with men at the time. However, it is precisely his emotional openness what helps Johanna heal.
News of the Worldis a heartwarming, beautiful novel, that takes reader through the harsh reality of the 1800’s and shows how tenderness and friendship can still blossom in such an environment. It is no wonder that it has been made into a movie with Tom Hanks as the titular character. In this strange land that seems so foreign to us, what is best and good within us still survives. A read that will not be easily forgotten.