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The Typist: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 3, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The curious latest from Knight (Divining Rod) follows American soldier Francis Van Vancleave as he weathers the trials of being a typist in Japan in the days after WWII. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, known here as Bunny, looms large and shows a surprising softer side when he invites Van to play with his school-age son to give the kid some perspective aside from the household help and his British tutor. Van's Saturday play dates invariably involve re-enacting battle scenes with toy soldiers of historic military figures. Meanwhile, Van's roommate is in a fiery love affair with a Japanese woman, and the strait-laced Van resists temptation even as he learns his wife back home is pregnant with another man's child. Knight paints a disquietingly dreamlike portrait of a postwar Japan that harbors no animosity toward its American conquerors and where Hiroshima becomes a sightseeing destination and the site of an American football game. Not quite darkly comic, not quite ironic, Knight's book is driven by earnest, unaffected storytelling, and the soft shocks it delivers render this a modest, entertaining story. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

Post-surrender Japan must have been an odd assignment for a soldier. Van is spared from frontline duty due to his remarkable abilities as a typist and ends up in General McArthur's Tokyo headquarters. With a wife back home, Van shies from the romantic escapades so many of his fellow enlistees commit so much of their time to. Van's good-hearted roommate cannot stay away from the pan-pan girls and begins a small black-market operation to satisfy his desires and relieve his boredom. This operation is his downfall and even comes close to ruining Van. Knight cunningly details the confluence of the boredom of American soldiers and the economic plight of the post-bombing Japanese. Two cultures collide and gross exploitation occurs, but Knight is still able to craft heartfelt relationships amid the confusion. Such novels as this one—fiction, yes, but rooted in actual history—help contemporary readers make sense of the mayhem and heroism of WWII. --Blair Parsons
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; English Language edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119506
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Wavelet on October 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Michael Knight is a master of the short story, which is always my absolute favorite thing to read. Able to balance a kind of luxuriant economy while retaining the genre's essential mystery, Knight writes stories seemingly effortlessly: perfect pacing, compelling point of view, and gorgeous details/images. While I might always prefer his short stories, The Typist marks an expansion of his skills. In an original move, he displaces his prototypical Southern male character to postwar/post-bomb Japan. The country is invoked gorgeously. "Little America" - the few square miles spared from bombings around Tokyo's finacial district - flares and then burns steadily on the page. The reader is never bombarded by informations, historical or otherwise. Knight employs just enough details to summon up a culture and place: "Just after Kyoto it started snowing, flakes darting like schools of fish outside the windows." A lovely read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Hebb on December 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a gem of a novel, small and finely cut, and well worth looking at. The author has largely succeeded in re-creating a time and place - a U.S. Army HQ in post-WW2 Japan - unknown to him. I found the setting and the characters both interesting and believable, having served in the Army HQ in Seoul in post-war Korea, a not too dissimilar experience at least in terms of setting from that in the novel. There is a degree of passivity in the main character, as some reviewers have noted, but I did not find this off-putting or disturbing, and think it accords with one of the main points being made by the author, namely that the character of the young man is being formed as the story develops, and the way in which the world impinges upon him is a major element in giving his character and direction in life its particular shape and trajectory.

Most gems contain slight flaws and there is one flaw, I think, in this novel that is worth mentioning, and that is race. The sensibility of the age is the most precarious element of the past, and in this novel a sense of race, as it infused American life in the '40s, is hardly present. Race, as far as it is evident at all, is portrayed as we in 21st century might conceive it. However, the main character in the novel is from the deep south, an area not known for racial tolerance in the 1940s, moreover, it should be remembered that the Army segregated in 1945-6, when this story takes place. The Army was very much a racist society at the time, and a boy from Mobile is likely to have imbibed certainly to some degree the vicious racist attitudes of his youthful environment. Even in the 1960s, when I served in the Army, racial tensions were present. Also, college football in the 1940s was also largely a white sport and a segregated one.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By RealGrrl on August 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I know I'm going to be considered 'unhelpful' for my mixed review, but here goes. The only good things I can say about this novel is that the simple prose fit the period & character's emotional void & that it showed the diversity of thought in post-war Japan. Overall though the book didn't draw me in, the main character seemed caught up in a situation that truly wasn't interesting. He reminded me of somebody on too much prozac or lithium who is just letting everything happen to him. Perhaps we could say his connection with Arthur McArthur meant something, but his relationships with all the rest of the characters were hollow. Maybe a reflection of the times? Disillusionment with American greatness? It's not a book that I'd ever reread, because nothing of substance can be drawn from it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Literate Housewife on April 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Francis "Van" Vancleave is an enlisted man during WWII. He never saw battle because of a skill his mother taught him secretly - typing. He could type faster than any other enlisted man. As such, he was assigned to work with General McArthur in post WWII Japan.

Although he was far from his home in Alabama, he always remained a Southerner in heart. He exuded hospitality in situations that made him uncomfortable. He treated his roommate like family even when he wondered if he was using him in the pursuit of pan-pan girls. He remained true to himself even while those around him did not. If he had any faults, they were that he was naive and at times ignored his better judgement to bring joy to others. Van is probably one of the most honorable characters I've gotten to know in a very long time.

This book complimented and reminded me of two other books I enjoyed this year. While I was reading this book, I started listening to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet. It was interesting to read these two books in conjunction as they show Japan in such a different light. While the subject matter of The Typist is different from The Blind Contessa's New Machine, but both novels gave me the same feeling in the end. Both were short novels that were interesting and comforting to read. I genuinely liked the main characters in both stories.

Final Thoughts

I would most definitely recommend The Typist. I'm so glad that I saw Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog's display at Fountain Books and picked it up. What a nice souvenir from my business trip to Richmond. If you live around Richmond or are visiting the area, you should make the time to stop by Fountain Books. Any bookstore smart enough to partner with Rebecca is a great place to browse and pick up some great reads.
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