Book of the Week: News of the World – Paulette Jiles

This little book has taken a long, peripatetic road to publication. Originally intended as a March 2016 publication, we started requesting bookseller reads over a year ago. Along the way, a funny thing happened….

Paulette Jiles is a respected author of (mostly) literary historical fiction. Perhaps that’s the reason that reads for this small gem of a novel started slow out of the gate. Maybe it’s because people felt they knew Jiles; maybe it’s that at first blush it looked too much like a “western”… Whatever the reason, the curious thing is that when someone did read the book, they couldn’t let it go—they had to tell someone else about it.

Reviews below will explain what the book is about but here are a few broad strokes: At first it seems a simple story about an elderly Civil War vet asked to return a white captive girl who had been living with the Kiowa in Northern Texas. The miracle of the book is that in just about 200 pages Jiles opens a window on another time and creates and enduring, unforgettable relationship between an old man and a child.

I was one of those readers who couldn’t let it go and I got two early bookseller endorsements from two very different parts of the country:

Jiles is talented on every level – true voices, character development, historical accuracy, humor and poignancy.  She proves that a fantastic book can be accomplished in under 225 pages.  What a gem! The story itself is beautiful.  But the bonus for me was the geography and demographic of the Captain and Johanna’s journey thru post-Civil War Texas – an era and area with which I was unfamiliar, along with the relationships between the free blacks, war veterans, various native tribes and  civilians.  Just another example of Jiles’ mastery of historical fiction.”
— Karen McCue, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

News of the World is a winner.  This was a lot of story packed in a relatively short book….Jiles created two outstanding characters with Captain Kidd and Johanna and I immediately engaged with them and their story.  They are both brave, humble and honorable individuals for whom I felt deep respect.  Kidd’s sharp, indignant humor made me laugh – ‘Young man, stop speaking in explanation points.’  I look forward to selling this book.”
— Tina Smith, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

In the meantime, the same thing was happening in-house at Harper. Our company’s president and publisher, Michael Morrison, weighed in:

It’s a quintessential American novel, set in post-Civil War Northern Texas…[A] relatively short, contained novel, beautifully written and with not a wasted scene or sentence.  It’s the kind of book you not only can read in a weekend, but you want to stay up until you finish it. And all ages, men and women will equally respond to it.”

After last year’s fall trade shows and over the course of the holiday season, more and more booksellers started reading and telling each other about it. We printed more ARCs to meet demand and a kind of “slow buzz” built as booksellers handsold it to one another. Then Eric Boss, a retired and widely respected Penguin rep in Mountains and Plains Region sent out this praise to Western booksellers:

The harsh sweetness of this book is entirely captivating….I recommend this one to everyone. Lovers of adventure, history, stories of family, admirers of human courage and love, readers of well-written prose (and this is very finely crafted work) are included in this invitation. I found it immensely rewarding and downright heartwarming.”

We gradually got that we had something very special here.

So the book didn’t come out in March. Its appeal is so broad, the story so winning, we decided that it would make a great holiday handsell. That intuition seemed to be confirmed when Charles Frazier, perhaps the king of the Civil War “journey” novel, wrote that News of the World is

[a] powerful, richly-realized journey. . . .  Captain Kidd belongs in the pantheon of great Western characters along with True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn and Lonesome Dove’s Gus and Call.”

The Captain and Johanna’s journey took another turn last week when News of the World was longlisted for this year’s National Book Award. It was previously named both an Indie Next Pick and the #1 LibraryReads Pick.

Check out this video interview with Paulette. It will give you a nice feel for the story and its landscape.

 

You can get more background in this print interview. Please feel to use both on your own social media.

 Johanna Leonberger remembers almost nothing of her first 6 years, when she lived with her parents. Instead, her memory extends only as far as her Kiowa family—she speaks no English and by white standards is uncivilized….At first reluctant to take her the 400 miles to the town near San Antonio where her aunt and uncle live, he soon realizes his itinerant life makes him the most plausible person for the job—and he also knows it’s the right thing to do. He buys a wagon, and they start their journey, much to the reluctance and outrage of the undomesticated Johanna; but a relationship soon begins to develop between the two. Jiles makes the narrative compelling by unsentimentally constructing a bond based at least in part on a mutual need for survival, but slowly and delicately, Johanna and Kidd begin to respect as well as need one another. What cements their alliance is facing many obstacles along the way, including an unmerciful landscape; a lack of weapons; and a vicious cowboy and his companions, who want to kill Kidd and use the girl for their own foul purposes. As one might expect, Kidd and Johanna eventually develop a deep and affectionate relationship….Lyrical and affecting, the novel succeeds in skirting clichés through its empathy and through the depth of its major characters.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Jiles’ lyrical style and minimal punctuation allow the reader to become immersed in the dusty Texan landscape, witnessing the anguish, fear, compassion, and joy in the unlikely pair’s journey.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Jiles delivers a taut, evocative story of post–Civil War Texas in this riveting drama of a redeemed captive of the Kiowa tribe. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly widower, earns his living traveling around, reading news stories to gatherings of townspeople. While reading in Wichita Falls one evening in the winter of 1870, he sees an old acquaintance…[who] persuades the Captain to escort young Johanna on the remainder of the three-week journey. The Captain, who has grown daughters of his own, at first feels sorry for the girl. Johanna considers herself Kiowa; she chafes at wearing shoes and a dress, struggles to pronounce American words. Challenges and dangers confront the two during their journey, and they become attached. Jiles unfolds the stories of the Captain and Johanna, past and present, with the smooth assuredness of a burnished fireside tale, demonstrating that she is a master of the western.”
Publishers Weekly

 News of the World is the perfect choice for just about any reader and will be my favorite handsell for the Fall season. Traveling news reader Captain Kidd and his young charge Johanna make an odd but captivating and colorful duo as they make their way through lawless post-Civil War Texas, heading to San Antonio on a journey that everyone they encounter understands to be so dangerous as to be foolhardy. Practically a death-wish. Onward they go, in an affectionate battle of wills, with the Captain hell-bent on delivering Johanna, a recently and reluctantly freed Indian captive, to her relatives in South Texas and Johanna equally determined to remain with Kidd. Paulette Jiles’ prose is lyrical and News of the World is a splendidly entertaining and very moving novel.”
— Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

“WOW!!! —  Heavy sigh — What a gem! A love story of two people, a way of life and a time and place. How so much can be packed into so slim of a novel…the depth of feeling I had for Captain Kidd and Johanna — his solitude, her confused terror. Exquisite descriptions had me feeling as if I was there in Texas riding along in the bullet ridden Curative Waters wagon with them.”
— Deborah Carson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

“Jiles is a gifted wordsmith whose descriptive prose creates vivid physical and emotional landscapes that you slip into without effort.  It is filled with interesting and lesser known historical facts of the time period and culture but it is the portrayal of the evolving relationship between two unique characters that is particularly moving and beautiful.  At times I found the story so engaging I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, at other times I lingered….In the end I found News of the World to be a subtle yet powerful story about compassion and transformation.  Jiles could have drawn out the story, could have packed in more details but she didn’t need to. It’s a wholly satisfying story.”
— Sharon Gambin, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“For such a small book, Paulette packed a punch of a story with characters that still haven’t left me….Jiles truly has constructed a tale that everyone will enjoy. From the beginning, I felt like I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough – but when I reached the moments of suspense… HOLY WOW. This woman has a true talent. My favorite quote from the entire book comes after the battle with Almay: ‘No. Absolutely not. No. No scalping… It is considered very impolite.’ Maybe it was the adrenaline I had built up while sitting on the edge of my seat, but I thought it was hilarious.”
— Macon Wilson, The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

News of the World (9780062409201) by Paulette Jiles. $22.99 hardcover. 10/4/16 one day laydown.

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