When his grandmother gave Bill Lascher a 1930s Corona typewriter that had belonged to her cousin Melville Jacoby, a correspondent in the Pacific during World War II, it was the start of a journalistic odyssey that became “Eve of a Hundred Midnights.”

Lascher’s fantasies of being a foreign correspondent fuel his affectionate and intricate look at Jacoby’s experiences — as an exchange student in China and later as a reporter working for Time, Life and United Press International.

Lascher’s vivid portrait of Jacoby’s adventures is bolstered by the latter’s files, photos, film and letters that the family saved. Lascher describes Jacoby’s reporting from the bombed-out capital at Chungking; his harrowing escape from a burning dock onto the last boat out of Manila in December 1941; brushes with famous people, including Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, Helen Keller and Theodore H. White; his arrest by the Japanese on suspicion of espionage, and his marriage to fellow journalist Annalee Whitmore, one of the first female war correspondents.

The narrative is enriched by anecdotes such as this one of Annalee’s favorite memory of Bataan, recounted by her daughter:

“Both threw themselves on the ground, Mel on top of Annalee. As the bombs began to fall, Mel, who was known for his dry sense of humor, said, ‘Remember, dear, it’s all in your head.’… Annalee remembered the two of them shaking from laughter as the ground around them shook from the bombing.”

 

Ellen Birkett Morris’ book reviews have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, the Louisville Courier-Journal and elsewhere.

Eve of a Hundred Midnights
By: Bill Lascher.
Publisher: William Morrow, 408 pages, $26.99.