At age 70, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd has endured wars, a wife, the loss of her, two daughters, and has traveled the roads and byways of his native South. In Paulette Jiles’ 2016 National Book Award-nominated News of the World, this gentleman is now roaming Texas reading periodicals and papers to audiences so starved for news of the outside world they will pay a nickel a piece to hear it proclaimed.
Capt. Kidd seems content to live life this way while waiting for his daughters to move back home to Texas. Jiles’ paints her gentleman newsreader as remote from the world of his audiences, saddened by the passage of time, impatient with the impatience of intolerance.
Captain Kidd laid out the Boston Morning Journal on the lectern and began to read from the article on the Fifteenth Amendment. He had been born in 1798 and the third war of his lifetime had ended five years ago and he hoped never to see another but now the news of the world aged him more than time itself. Still he stayed his rounds, even during the cold spring rains. He had been at one time a printer but the war had taken his press and everything else, the economy of the Confederacy had fallen apart even before the surrender and so he now made his living in this drifting from one town to another in North Texas with his newspapers and journals in a waterproof portfolio and his coat collar turned up against the weather. He rode a very good horse and was concerned that someone might try to take the horse from him but so far so good. So he had arrived in Wichita Falls on February 26th and tacked up his posters and put on his reading clothes in the stable. There was a hard rain outside and it was noisy but he had a good strong voice.
He shook out the Journal’s pages.
The Fifteenth Amendment, he read, which has just been signed between the several states February 3rd, 1870, allows the vote to all men qualified to vote without regard to race or color or previous condition of servitude. He looked up from the text. His reading glasses caught the light. He bent slightly forward over the lectern. That means colored gentlemen, he said. Let us have no vaporings or girlish shrieks. He turned his head to search the crowd of faces turned up to him. I can hear you muttering, he said. Stop it. I hate muttering.
He glared at them and then said, Next. The Captain shook out another newspaper. The latest from the New York Herald Tribune states that the polar exploration ship Hansa is reported by a whaler as being crushed in sunk in the pack ice in its attempt to reach the North Pole; sunk at seventy degrees north latitude off Greenland. There is nothing in this article about survivors. He flipped the page impatiently.
This moment presents Capt. Kidd with what is perhaps his life’s last great challenge. A ten-year-old girl has been “rescued” from her Kiowa captors. Kidd is charged with returning Johanna to her closest relatives, across Texas, fighting brigands, harsh countryside, and the girl’s own hysteria at being ripped from the only family she knew.
Britt said, The Kiowa don’t want her. They finally woke up to the fact that having a white captive gets you run down by the cav. The Agent said to bring all the captives in or he was cutting off their rations and sending the 12th and the 9th out after them. They brought her in and sold her for fifteen Hudson’s Bay four-stripe blankets and a set of silver dinnerware. German coin silver. They’ll beat it up into bracelets. It was Aperian Crow’s band brought her in. Her mother cut her arms to pieces and you could hear her crying for a mile.
Her Indian mother.
Yes, said Britt.
Were you there?
I wonder if she remembers anything. From when she was six.
No, said Britt. Nothing.
The girl still did not move. It takes a lot of strength to sit that still for that long. She sat upright on the bale of Army shirts which were wrapped in burlap, marked in stencil for Fork Belknap. Around her were wooden boxes of enamel wash basins and nails and smoked deer tongues packed in fat, a sewing machine in a crate, fifty-pound sacks of sugar. Her round face was flat in the light of the lamp and without shadows, or softness. She seemed carved.
“[It] is a narrow but exquisite book about the joys of freedom (experienced even by a raging river threatening to overrun its banks); the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it; pure adventure in the wilds of an untamed Texas; and the reconciling of vastly different cultures (as when Kidd has to explain to Johanna, who is all set to collect a white man’s scalp, that this “is considered very impolite” and simply isn’t done). That’s a lot to pack into a short (213 pages), vigorous volume, but Ms. Jiles is capable of saying a lot in few words.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/books/news-of-the-world-paulette-jiles.html
Obviously Jiles is a writer of immense and immediate talent. She places each word, showing as well as proclaiming herself a poet, novelist and memoirist. Her website, http://paulettejiles.com , contains numerous blog posts enlivening the writer’s work with insights into her life and thoughts and writing processes. I learned that she is, like me, an alto who enjoys singing the low line but occasionally resents the showier sopranos.
I truly enjoyed this book, found it haunting and beautiful and lyrical. Capt. Kidd and Johanna’s growing relationship, their fierce-now-lost world, are with me, thought it’s been several weeks since I’ve read the Jiles’ novel. It is now out in paperback and I heartily endorse the choice for your book club.
From the novel: Brisket barbecue, divinity candy, taffy, Alsatian noodles with lamb and cream.
I have never tried a beef brisket but I love eating it. I think this novel may inspire me to try. My good friend Monica — a book club member — does her briskets in a “Big Green Egg” but since I don’t have one of those, I will try this Southern Living endorsed, Texas brisket recipe on a grill: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/fiesta-brisket . My mouth is already watering.
When I was a child, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was the tray of homemade candies my grandmother would bring out on Christmas Eve. And my favorite part of that tray was the divinity candy. Here’s her recipe:
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 cup white corn syrup
- 3/4 cup cold water
- 3 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
- 2 cups chopped pecans
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until sugar dissolves. Without stirring further, cook until mixture reaches hard ball stage.
Use a slow pour to stream syrup into egg whites beating constantly at high speed. Add vanilla and continue to beat until mixture holds its shape, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in pecans.
Using 2 spoons, drop the divinity onto waxed paper, using 1 spoon to push the candy off the other. If the candy becomes too stiff, add a few drops of hot water. Cool on racks.
Jiles’ website says she is a choir member and the music sprinkled throughout News of the World reflects a deep knowledge of a Southern hymnal and folk music.
It is Well With My Soul
Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross
Come to the Power
Black is the Color
Yellow Rose of Texas
Apparently Fox 2000 bought the movie rights to star Tom Hanks as Capt. Kidd. Which to me is a durn shame.
Robert Redford is the perfect Capt. Kidd.