An American soldier works in post-surrender Japan in a novel “reminiscent of The English Patient . . . sad, wistful and romantic” (Los Angeles Times).
When Francis Vancleave 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 US Army. When he’s bunked with a troubled combat veteran 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.
“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 . . . [An] elegant, thoughtful, and resonant novel.” —Ann Patchett
“A memorable read.” —Chicago Tribune
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.