THE TYPIST by Michael Knight

Book Quote:

“Mittomonai translates roughly as indecent or shameful. I looked it up when I got back to the barracks. But I don’t think I understand what Fumiko meant, not right away at least, not until some time had passed. At first and for a long while afterward, I thought she meant the idea of such a celebration at the scene of such a tragedy, but now I think her meaning was more complicated than that.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  AUG 9, 2011)

Only those who fully venerate war can think of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a glorified event. Indeed, many fictional books that are set in post-Hiroshima reconstruction are filled with vivid, colorful and poignant descriptions.

So it comes as a surprise that Michael Knight’s The Typist is such a gentle book. It is devoid of precisely what one might expect in a book set in the wake of World War II: no brow-beating, no heart-wrenching, no intrusive authorial political statements.

At its heart, The Typist is a coming-of-age book. The protagonist, Pfc. Francis Vancleave (Van) has one claim to fame: he types an astounding 95 words a minute. That skill keeps him off the battlefield, where his days are filled with mind-numbing letters of dictation and paperwork. That is, until he comes to the attention of General MacArthur, nicknamed “Bunny.” Bunny conscripts him to keep company with his young son, Arthur, an isolated boy, who enjoys staging figurine battles with his large assortment of toys.

Van is a man who is marginalized by life. As a married man – and we initially know little about his marriage – he does not enter into the “sport” of bedding the panpan girls who “smoked and teased and sent young boys over with indecent propositions.” Unlike his roommate, Clifford, he is a straight arrow, freshly minted from Alabama, more of an observer than a participant. He is able to lose himself in the games of his young charge (would Hannibel outfox Napolean?) and fits in beautifully in Arthur’s isolated world.

There is an authentic simplicity in Michael Knight’s sparse writing, a puissance that might elude a less gifted writer. As Van searches for his own legitimacy, Mr. Knight provides him with the luxury of reaching it at his own pace. This is slow, effortless, luxuriant prose, prose that casts a spell, prose that doesn’t waste a word and refuses to erect artificial roadblocks to the story. As far as comparisons, one work that comes instantly to mind is Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. There is as much power in what is not stated as what is.

A subtle theme of football runs through the book – and also in the magnificent story that precedes The Typist, called The Atom Bowl. MacArthur, in shocking disregard of sensibilities, holds a football game to rally spirit in what he dubs the Atom Bowl; “the players trotted out and suddenly the ball was in the air, the Giants kicking to the Bears in the city of Hiroshima, on the island of Honshu, in the occupied nation of Japan.” If there is any doubt of how Michael Knight expects us to read this scene, it is dispelled by the opening story. In it, a young boy interviews his “pawpaw” – the last surviving participant of the Atom Bowl. As his pawpaw relives these “gory days,” the boy asks him, “What about you? Did you ever feel guilty or anything?” The response: “For what?”

This small, quiet novel centering on a rootless man in search for something he only dimly understands packs a disproportionate wallop. By juxtaposing complex characters with an economy of language, Michael Knight has created a compelling meditation of a sliver of history.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 14 readers
PUBLISHER: Grove Press (August 9, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Michael Knight
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Boat by Nam Le



August 9, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Coming-of-Age, Facing History, Japan, Literary, World Lit

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