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The Typist

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Overview

Written with the stunning economy of language for which Michael Knight’s work has always been praised, The Typist is a rich and powerful work of historical fiction that expertly chronicles both the politics of the Pacific theater of World War II, and the personal relationships borne from the tragedies of warfare.

When Francis Vancleave (“Van”) joins the army in 1944, he expects his term of service to pass uneventfully. His singular talent—typing ninety-five words a minute—keeps ...

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The Typist: A Novel

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Overview

Written with the stunning economy of language for which Michael Knight’s work has always been praised, The Typist is a rich and powerful work of historical fiction that expertly chronicles both the politics of the Pacific theater of World War II, and the personal relationships borne from the tragedies of warfare.

When Francis Vancleave (“Van”) joins the army in 1944, he expects his term of service to pass uneventfully. His singular talent—typing ninety-five words a minute—keeps him off the battlefield and in General MacArthur’s busy Tokyo headquarters, where his days are filled with paperwork in triplicate and letters of dictation.

But little does Van know that the first year of the occupation will prove far more volatile for him than for the U.S. Army. When he’s bunked with a troubled combat veteran-cum-black marketer and recruited to babysit MacArthur’s eight-year-old son, Van is suddenly tangled in the complex—and risky—personal lives of his compatriots. As he brushes shoulders with panpan girls and Communists on the streets of Tokyo, Van struggles to uphold his convictions in the face of unexpected conflict—especially the startling news from his war bride, a revelation that threatens Van with a kind of war wound he never anticipated.

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Library Journal
Private Francis Vancleave is stationed in Tokyo just after World War II, serving as a typist for General MacArthur. His position puts him in contact with the elite units billeted near the Emperor's Palace; in fact, his roommate, Clifford, is in the Honor Guard and arranges for Francis to become a Saturday companion for MacArthur's young son. The narrator's strong first-person voice contrasts with his retiring, impassive demeanor, giving the novel a pensive tone that has more in common with an Alice Munro story than a typical war novel. Francis is hypersensitive to his bleak, war-torn surroundings and the plight of the ever-present panpan girls (prostitutes). Yet he barely reacts when he receives word of his wife's affair back in the States or when he learns of Clifford's growing entanglement in Tokyo's black market. But Francis's experiences subtly change him; he moves from being a typist—merely recording what passes before him—to taking charge of his life. VERDICT With its spare, economical prose, this novel brings a different slant to the theme of war and relationships. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/10.]—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
From the Publisher
—Huffington Post 10 Best Books of Year
California Chronicle Top 100 Books of the Year

The Typist is reminiscent of The English Patient—slow, sad, wistful and romantic.”—Los Angeles Times

“Gambling, prostitutes, bomb craters and black-market transactions: these are the exigencies of a military occupation, or at least of America’s occupation of Tokyo in the mid-1940s. Given the sin-rich atmosphere of The Typist, it may come as a surprise that the tone is more beatific than vulgar. But then Mr Knight has never shied away from taking the unexpected angle in his fiction. . . . Knight’s prose transforms even cheap booze and poor weather into lovely atmospheric touches. . . . [His] elegant prose recalls the fiction of W.G. Sebald, another author who explored the melancholy postwar consciousness with subtle mastery.”—The Economist (online)

"The Typist is Knight’s best book yet. It reads with a combination of urgency and a quiet, rush-less path to the novel’s slow reveal. There is not a misstep, not a mislaid sentence. I believed and breathed every single word. This book awed me."—Elizabeth Gilbert

"Michael Knight tells the story of generals, war, and occupation through the eyes of a typist who proves himself to be the calm at the center of the storm. The result is this elegant, thoughtful, and resonant novel."—Ann Patchett

“[A] quiet novel [that] packs a strong philosophical punch.”—The Huffington Post (Most Anticipated Novels for 2010)

"Knight is an accomplished author of short fiction, and here he uses those skills to craft a fully realized novel that retains the attributes of the best short stories, including concision and cohesion." —Shelf Awareness

“Spare in detail but mesmerizing . . . For readers with an interest in post-war Japan, The Typist is an artistic change of pace. For those without an interest, the novel will inform and illuminate.”—Author Magazine

The Typist is a compelling meditation on how public events shape private lives. Packing sharp characterization and a rollercoaster plot into a brisk 200 pages, it is also a notable feat of literary economy . . . [and its] brevity is a source of its power. . . . It is no small thing to convince a reader to suspend disbelief about well-known events; Knight does so masterfully.”—BookPage

"I loved The Typist. It is a beautiful portrait of a kind of walking pneumonia of the spirit that seeks and finds its own cure. It is also, for me, most impressive because of its setting—in a time far before Knight ever drew breath. It is true imagining at its finest."—Richard Bausch

“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. . . . The Typist is driven by earnest storytelling, and the soft shocks it delivers render this a modest, entertaining story.”—Baldwin Register

"Knight paints a disquietingly dreamlike portrait of a postwar Japan . . . Not quite darkly comic, not quite ironic, Knight’s book is driven by earnest, unaffected storytelling."—Publishers Weekly

"The narrator's strong first-person voice . . . gives the novel a pensive tone that has more in common with an Alice Munro story than a typical war novel. . . . With its spare, economical prose, this novel brings a different slant to the theme of war and relationships."—Library Journal

"Knight's graceful, lyrical prose calls to mind the work of Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford, and his compressed plotting invites comparison to Alice Munro."—Nashville Scene

“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.”—Booklist

“Lyrical prose balances short, clipped sentences against longer, poetic passages with a grace and control reminiscent of Richard Ford and Tobias Wolff. . . . [The Typist is] a masterful execution of symbiosis between content and form . . . [that] calls to mind Ernest Hemingway . . . Michael Knight has delivered a book that achieves in an astonishingly compressed form all the artistry, depth, and seriousness of a thousand-page doorstop of a war novel. The Typist is a fine addition to the catalogue of World War II novels, capturing an often overlooked facet of the war. But it chiefly deserves attention and admiration for proving effectively that a book need not be long to be big.”—Chapter 16 Blog (Tennessee Humanities Council)

“Thrilling . . . [with] quiet power . . . Knight produces a number of stunning set-pieces, in which what must have been considerable research is elevated through imagination and skillful prose into marvelously effective scenes that submerge historical detail in effective drama . . . The apparent simplicity of Van’s narrative belies the increasing emotional magnitude of the story he tells. As the tale unfolds, it gradually builds in resonance, and the small elements of narrative and character put in place at the outset erupt in the final pages with seismic effect. By the time Van returns to the United States, his desk-bound military experience feels as authentic, and convulsive, as that of any frontline warrior, and as transformational—for him and for the reader. . . . [An] elegant, restrained novel.”—The Rumpus (online)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802119506
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 979,241
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Knight is the author of the novel, Divining Rod, the short story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Dogfight and Other Stories, and the novella, The Holiday Season. He teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee and lives in Knoxville with his family.

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First Chapter

The Typist


By Michael Knight

Atlantic Monthly Press

Copyright © 2010 Michael Knight
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1950-6


Chapter One

After Pearl Harbor, my father was gone more often than he was home, piloting his tugboat from Mobile, Alabama, where we lived, to factories as far away as Louisville and Kansas City, barges riding low in the water from the weight of materials for the war effort. He'd been too young for the first war and now he was too old, but I was proud of him just the same.

For her part, my mother never seemed to mind the erratic schedule or to resent the other wives in our neighborhood, the ones whose husbands came home each night in time for supper, and though I admired my father very much, though I wanted to pilot a tugboat of my own one day, I minded on her behalf. When he wasn't on the water, my mother fussed over him, cobbling his favorite meals together, despite the rations, rubbing his feet while he read the paper, wearing her hair the way he liked, pressing a finger to her lips to make sure I didn't wake him in the morning. Then, in what seemed no time at all, my father would pack his grip and vanish from our lives again, the only proof of his existence dry whiskers in the sink and an extra pillow on my mother's bed.

My mother had been a secretary before she married, and during the war, she took piecemeal work for extra money, mostly papers for students at the Jesuit college in our town. Nights, she'd set her typewriter, a 1938 Corona Portable, on the kitchen table after dinner, and I'd linger over the dishes as a pretext to watch her. My mother was pretty all the time but her face in concentration was mesmerizing, lips pursed, eyebrows knitted. Her fingers flashed over the keys. It was my mother who taught me how to type. The trick, she told me, was to forget about your hands. I allowed these lessons only on nights when my father was away. She gave me scripture to practice on. Blessed are the poor of spirit and For now we see through a glass darkly and so forth. She was not an overtly religious woman-I never saw her cross herself outside of mass-but we attended services every Sunday, sometimes with my father, sometimes not, depending on his work schedule and his mood, and though I quit church in the army, I never did manage to shake what I would call a spiritual inclination.

Every so often, when my father was gone and my mother was lonely and sleep eluded her, she'd slip down the hall to my room and ask me to scoot over on my bed. I'd sigh and grumble out of a kind of teenage sense of obligation, but the truth is I didn't mind. She'd curl up with her chest against my back, her knees in the crooks of mine, her hands pressed together, as if in prayer, between my shoulders.

Our secrets: my typing lessons and her nights in my bed.

Looked back on, those days seem happy enough, all things considered. I had plenty of friends and I chased my share of girls without success. Before the war, the biggest thing to happen in my life was when Alabama whipped Stanford in the Rose Bowl. That was part of the problem, I suppose. I enlisted three days after graduation. Did my basic at Fort Benning. Got married two weeks before I shipped overseas. She was seventeen years old, one of those girls who made bandages for the Red Cross and danced with soldiers at the USO, and I was one of those soldiers headed off to war. Near the end of basic training, an assignments officer asked if I had any special talents. At first I could think of nothing, and we just kept looking at each other. Finally, I remembered I could type. I shipped out eighteen months before we dropped the bomb, my life so far receding, my life to come spreading out before me big as the ocean. I was attached to the Officers Personnel Section, a sort of military secretarial pool, of General MacArthur's headquarters, first in Brisbane, then Manila. In September 1945, a month after the surrender, the whole operation was relocated to Tokyo, where the story that I want to tell begins.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Typist by Michael Knight Copyright © 2010 by Michael Knight. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Simply Mesmerizing Story Telling

    Michael Knight has told a young man's WWII story as a typist during the occupation of Japan under MacArthur with a different perspective. This is the story of a non-combat soldier who types 95wpm. He must come to an understanding of the events and people around him. His brand new wife becomes pregnant back home in Alabama by someone else. His roommate is dealing in the black market. His roommate has also fallen in love with Namiki, a department store mannequin model. He is also called upon to play each Saturday with MacArthur's son who has no playmates in Tokyo. The flow of Knight's written words is just perfect in showing the typist's feelings on all these events and how he will come to a maturity to handle it all. A bookclub would have plenty to discuss from the actions of the characters in this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2010

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