Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.
Shanghai, 1941 -- a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war...and the dawn of a blighted world.
Ballard's enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.
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Jim is suddenly separated from his parents during WWII in China. Young Jim is then forced to survive the horrors of war on his own. Without any adults willing to help him and because of his European descent Jim is sent off to a Japanese concentration camp until the end of the war.
This book was a bit hard for me to read because it is written through the eyes of a young child experiencing some really difficult situations. He gets taken advantage of many times due to his innocence but it is his innocence that really helps him get through such tough situations. Although I admittedly did not enjoy every aspect of the book it left me with some great images and really got me thinking about the repercussions of war especially on the psyche of young children.
And if that's the case, of course it's a war of all against all, and so Jim's keen evaluative eye and ability to identify with whoever is to his advantage to identify with at the moment is so natural. This book has really interesting things to say (for one) about traditional national stereotypes--Jim's attraction to the hawk-eyed Japanese, cruel and clean among the filth and maggots, and the way it fades before the casual irony and eye to an advantage of the Americans, backed by a billion horsepower in Flying Fortresses (and you are reminded that any national idea would have been as appealing as "America", if it had the circumstances to wax confident and strong in that America had; and I see also that the initial US involvement in Chine came in the 1840s to "protect the Chinese from the British operating in the condition of a monopoly" or similar); his ambivalent relationship with the best survivalist Boy's Own tradition of Britain, represented by Dr. Ransome; and the ultimate fear that the Chinese have it right, and that war of all against all is what's coming, and the cold-eyed and cynical will survive and win.
And, like, I guess this is gauche or whatever to be impressed, but Ballard lived through this. I mean that in both senses: he was there, and he survived. And the book's constant refrain is "Jim knew", and some of the things he knows are most dubious, but he can't afford the luxury of doubt--he needs solid intelligence on which to make life-sustaining decisions. And that bit at the end--it's only a throwaway line, but where Jim looks for his turtle, absurdly, because it is eaten or killed or at the very least miles away--but you're like "a kid needs a turtle. Otherwise all he has to relate to are shity colonist internees (and the colonial whites come out as bad here as they do in, say, The Seed and the Sower) and Japanese fighter pilots." But, oh hell, the fighter pilots are children too, twisted in just the same way. Our grandparents' generation wasn't especially brave for throwing themselves into the meat grinder, which people have been doing since time immemorial; they were brave for coming home and getting together a system that persevered without setting the world on fire (more or less) for 64 years and counting.more