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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.
|Product dimensions:||4.78(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.64(d)|
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
By Michael Knight
Atlantic Monthly PressCopyright © 2010 Michael Knight
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAfter 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.
Excerpted from The Typist by Michael Knight Copyright © 2010 by Michael Knight. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.