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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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