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The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg's film, tells of a young boy's struggle to survive World War II in China.
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.
Published: Simon & Schuster on
ISBN: 9781476737539
List price: $10.99
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I give this one 3.5 stars but alas because no half stars are allowed 4 stars it is.

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.
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A historical novel of death and war. Ballard has an evocative style and imagery, but I admit his dialogue grated on me. One grows numb to atrocity by the end of the book, and that is its own horror.more
What a glorious book that just oozes class and the film does justice to. But then do they ever?This book is written from the viewpoint of a teenage boy,Jim,interned in a prison camp just outside Shanghai during WWII along with other western foreign nationals. Jim goes from a spoilt and luxurious lifestyle to a struggle for mere existance in a fairly rapid passage of time. Yet he manages to display a remarkable resilience, an un-dying spirit and very little malice throughout his terrible experiences but rarely does the story become maudling. Helped by the fact that it is written in the 1st person so you know Jim somehow survives.This story invoked so many feelings, from anger and disgust to laughter and hope, there are occassional dream-like sections but never does the story stray from the teenage perspective. Which is probably it's greatest achievement. The fact that this book while not auto-biographical is based on real situations and the author's own experiences is all the more remarkable. If I had one gripe is that the author, through Jim, appears to have such a poor opinion of the British and the Chinese yet very good ones of the Japanese and Americans did grate a little at times but this did not detract from a great readmore
This book was quite interesting as it told a story about a young boy who had to learn to adapt to different situations in order to survive through a war.more
"Empire of the Sun," is a semi-autobiographical novel of when J.G. Ballard was at the Lunghua Interment Camp as a boy during WWII.The story opens when the protagonist, Jim, age eleven, is with his parents at an early Christmas event, just prior to Pearl Harbor.Chinese refugees and beggars are everywhere and people become immune to their plight. As Jim's family goes to the Christmas event, their driver goes over the foot of an old beggar outside their compound. The driver doesn't stop and no one says anything.I thought this was an interesting comparison to the Bible story of the good Samaritan stopping by the road to help someone in distress. Here they were going to a Christmas party but didn't feel much of the charity of Christ.That night the Japanese attack an American and British military vessel in the harbor and war begins for Shanghai.Jim sees the war through his own eyes. He's very analytical and nonjudgmental. He's separated from his parents and spends the next few months living at his parents and their friends vacant homes, until the food is used up.Later he surrenders to the Japanese and spends most of the war at the Lunghua Interment Camp.He sees the empire of the sun when the bomb explodes at Nagasaki.As the war is coming to an end, the prisoners are moved from their camp to another at an old Olympic stadium. They are forced marched to this location and many die.I enjoyed Jim's descriptions of life, the author's slow pace in telling the story as if this is what the life was like.more
I watched the movie of this book first before reading it so even before I open the book and skim its pages, I already have the grasp of the general idea and the plot line of the book. The movie was good. In fact, it made me cry so hard so when I learned that it's based on a novel by J.G. Ballard, I decided to read the book. I thought the book would be "just like the movie" but when I started reading… from the first chapter, "The Eve of Pearl Harbor", it hit me that it's different from the movie. There are some certain differences between the two like in the book Jim was interned in Lunghua camp but in the movie he's interned in Soochow camp. Yes, the movie got the same concept as of the book… Japs, World War II, internment camps, sufferings, poverty but the book's more 'complete' or maybe 'detailed' is the appropriate term.Ballard's novel portrayed Jim with more precision that the movie. I found the Jim of the book better than the Jim of the movie. Don't get me wrong there. I'm not saying that Christian Bale (Jim) didn't act well, in fact, he was good and he carried it out really well. What I'm pointing out is the Jim in the book was described better… J.G. Ballard did a great job of creating Jim out of his experiences and imagination. What with all those childlike thoughts that he inserted in every chapter, those never-ending ideas, there's no doubt that Jim is really an amusing child. Ballard painted him beautifully with his words.But despite Ballard's amusing portrayal of Jim, the book wasn't able to induce from me some emotion like what the movie did. I never shed a tear while reading the book. I expected that I would cry while reading but then, maybe Ballard didn't intend his readers to be moved to emotions by his book. I guess his sole intention of telling the story of Jim is to dig up and remember his buried past in China particularly in Shanghai and in the internment camp where he and his parents lived for several years.I think the book is a success and I like it. It perfectly depicted the Second World War in the eyes of a child like Jim. The movie is also good in a different way. The book is better but the movie has a better ending. Gosh, I cried a bucketful of tears during the ending of the movie. The book and the movie are both a masterpiece in its own way.more
I failed to get as much out of this one as others have. It is a good tale of survival and highlights the experience of those Western expats who found themselves in the path of the Japanese onslaught, but it didn't provide me the insight into Shanghai itself that I was hoping for. I'll blame this on my own bias, since having been an expat in Shanghai, I was looking for something that was as fascinating as Georges Spunt's extraordinary account of his youth in Shanghai, A Place in Time.more
I dislike books that claim to be autobiographies, but are actually fictionalized memoirs. I’m sure we can all think of a couple that have made headlines in recent years. In the forward to his book, the author, J.G. Ballard, writes:Empire of the Sun describes my experiences in Shanghai, China, during the Second World War, and in Lunghua C.A.C (Civilian Assembly Center), where I was interned from 1942 to 1945. For the most part this novel is an eyewitness account of events I observed during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and within the camp at Lunghua.The story that he goes on to tell is heart-rending, yet inspirational. As a boy, Jim grew up in the luxurious world of a British ex-pat in Shanghai. Then, on the same day as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, eleven-year-old Jim’s life shatters. Separated from his parents in the chaos of the Japanese takeover, Jim lives in the houses of the international district until he joins forces with Basie, a lowlife who admits to trying to sell Jim and yet becomes a father figure that teaches him how to survive in this new world. Eventually caught and sent to Lunghua concentration camp, Jim works the system as he was taught, but is also helped by a friendly fellow captive, Dr. Ransome. When the war ends, danger continues to lurk as Jim strives to find his parents.Action-packed, heart-rending, and inspirational, the story makes for a page-turning read. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the book was tainted by the knowledge that J.G. Ballard was never separated from his parents and sister and lived with them in Lunghua. The difference that this one fact makes is enormous. Although I can’t discount the vivid descriptions that Ballard gives of wartime Shanghai and Lunghua, neither can I believe them, as I am constantly wondering where the line between fact and fiction lies. Give me an autobiography or give me a historical novel loosely based on the author’s experiences, but please don’t try to pass one off as the other.more
This is a difficult book for me to review. While I can appreciate the literary mastery of J.G. Ballard's "Empire of the Sun," I can't say I particularly enjoyed reading it. Ballard's autobiographical tale of Jim, a British child who does anything it takes to survive living in an interment camp during World War II in China, is incredibly stark and brutal. I disliked Jim as a character so much that it sort of tainted my enjoyment of this book. It's a tough look at some of the more negative aspects of human nature -- admittedly with stunning imagery and situations. In the end, it's a book I'm glad I read, but not one I'll ever pick up again.more
An autobiographical account of Ballard's childhood years spent during the Japanese occupation in Shanghai during World War II, Empire of the Sun is an effective and evocative tale of survival. The setting and the historical context, and the way which the two are described in a beautiful, tragic story, should fascinate students. The book can be taught with assistance from Spielberg's wonderful film adaptation.Note: contains some graphic violence.more
I finished Empire Of The Sun by JG Ballard yesterday, and it’s safe to say that it blew me away. It truly is an exceptional book, in turns moving and funny, with deep and light moments throughout.The coverline is a quote from The Guardian newspaper, calling it “The best British novel about the Second World War”, but this isn’t to say that it’s an outright war novel. It’s not even set anywhere near Britain, instead occurring in Shanghai and detailing the Japanese occupation.The central character, Jim, is a young boy at the outbreak of the war, but spends nearly three years in a POW camp just outside Shanghai, separated from his parents. He learns how to survive and protect his skin, mainly by being ultra-helpful to his fellow prisoners, often to the point of annoyance, even if he doesn’t realise it.Jim also retreats into his fantasy world, and daydreams of being a pilot in the future. He doesn’t care on whose side, just so long as he can get up in the air and truly be free. His most intense emotional experiences are always connected to the nearby airfield and its gleaming metal wonders.This novel is highly autobiographical, and it’s amazing to see how knowledgeable Ballard is of his own dizzying interest in just about everything around him. Jim is relentlessly upbeat, even in the face of death and disease at every turn. He is perhaps too trusting, but he’s also brave in his attempts to converse with his prison guards.Exquisitely written, and with intense detail of every scene, particularly the dead and the dying, this is a simply fantastic book. It truly puts the reader in Jim’s shoes, seeing everything around him destroyed, and his world turned upside down.It’s this kind of literature, part novel and part history lesson, that makes me realise just how lucky we have it nowadays. I sit here on my sofa, typing on a laptop, with nary a fear in the world, and yet just one or two generations ago people lived through (and died during) terrible atrocities which we can’t even begin to comprehend nowadays.This type of historical document, especially told through the eyes of a child, is important. It reminds us of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve still got to go.more
I often find myself not really reviewing a book but defending it from its detractors. I enjoyed Ballard’s work to the extent that after I read it I ran off to buy another by him. So when I read some of the reviews about this book, I became defensive.I do not know to what extent the book is Autobiographical, nor to what extent it was meant to be. Ballard mentions that the novel is based upon what he witnessed as a child during that period, but I think we are supposed to take that statement lightly. The main character never makes a mention of a sister. Some biographical material on Ballard brought up that after the Second World War he returned to England with his sister.It is a fine point, but one worth mentioning. Other people seem to think that tale unrealistic. I cannot comment too much – I count myself amongst the lucky who have not spent time in a concentration camp. However if we look at the text we do find a protagonist who from the young age of 10 is constantly thinking about war. In the next part of the book he is 14. War as a presence has been around his life for half of it, and War as a very real thing has been his life for a little less than a third of it, through many of what people would call formulative years. I can’t be sure, but I feel his actions could be justified.more
This book is so real. No bullshit narrative arc where Jim glorifies war and then leaarns the hard way that it's hell; no phantasmagoria of horrors, so when things do get a little hallucinatory, you're just about ready to accept it at face; no trying to impress the reader by making each episode sadder and more awful than the last (it turns out this wasn't the book I remembered from childhood where it was all forcing women to drink water and then jumping on their stomach till it burst, and stepping on babies' heads), because the endless grinding need to stay two steps ahead of the thresher to survive hits us in a less sensationalistic, more uncomfortable way--IS the next war just about to start? Is the security of modern life just a veil, so easily pulled apart forever? Is war not a catastrophe, but the natural state of humanity?

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.

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I understood that this novel was based around the real life experiences of the author's childhood in Shanghai but although this is a fine and absorbing read I encountered a problem that prevented me from warming to it entirely. I didn't believe it! The boy's reactions to his sudden wrenching away from two loving parents in a highly-priviledged and upper-class gated colonial community into the horror of Japanese invasion just didn't seem likely. He immediately becomes a self-reliant street urchin who suffers no disabilitating mourning for his parents nor his former comforts. He adapts and comforms with a hard-nosed resilience that I find hard to accept he would have possessed. Consequently, I had a slight worry about unreliable narrative syndrome, in a text that flaunted its verisimilitude.more
Enthralling true account of survival.more
A very moving and, in places, quite horribly graphic fictionalised account of the author's childhood privations in an internment camp outside Shanghai. The three dimensional descriptions show how deeply the author is drawing on his own experiences - no-one who had not gone through all this could describe it so vividly. In places the author enters an almost dreamlike state in his writing. He becomes the perpetual prisoner who actually comes to welcome the security of his prison walls as representing almost the only home he knows - a particular haunting tragedy for one so young.more
The author has drawn upon his own experiences as a child interned in a camp for POW's in Shanghai during WW2. After the bombing of Japanese forces on Pearl Harbour 'Jim' is separated from his parents. After several months surviving on the streets he is taken to a camp. This is no light read with detailed descriptions of executions, the effects of starvation and Jim's way of coping amid all the horror that surrounds him makes for a harrowing read. His survival was largely due to his youthful resilience but there can be no doubt as to the lasting trauma of such an experience.more
Empire of the Sun was, for me, quite a difficult read. I found it quite disturbing and the images it conjured up were harsh and sometimes quite shocking. In that sense, I suppose it is a fairly accurate representation of what times were like in Shanghai during WWII.Jim was a likeable enough character, but some of the others I did not care for - I wasn't particularly fond of Basie, I thought he was a bit of a user. I struggled to concentrate on the book at times, and found myself easily distracted.more
An incredible book. While reading this book I realized I had never heard much about the WW2 in the pacific outside of the American military operations of island hoping and the movies that came out of those events. I found this book very interesting. What was more surprising is it was based of Ballard's actual events that occurred to him during this time. I found myself wanting to so bad to know that everything would turn out well in the end. There were a few missing points in the book that I wish I could know the answer to, like what happened to certain individuals after the end of the book. I'm trying really hard not to spoil the book for anyone who has not read it yet. I felt my mind completely engrossed in the book and I found myself day dreaming during the day and finding myself at Lunghua camp and realizing how grateful I should be that my meal is more than just rice and a sweet potato. Would I say this book changed my life? Doubtful but it has made me more interested to read other books of the same nature, I want to go and read a book of someone who was in a concentration camp in Germany and then sit and compare what they had to go through, I would also be more interested now in reading more books of the pacific world war 2more
A novel that is also autobiography of the auther. Good description of being a kid and a victim of war. Griping enough to make you feel as part of the war.more
I would classify Empire of the Sun as an adventure novel about a boy’s life during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in WWII.The book is graphic and spares no details about how people die, but it wasn’t graphic to the point where I had to put it down. Halfway through reading this, I realized that it was not fiction and was actually an autobiography, which made it a bit more difficult to read the particularly gruesome parts.Empire of the Sun not only has an accurate portrayal of how a teenage boy would act during internment, but also the thoughts that would run through his head. There are parts in the book which had me on the edge of my seat because I was sure the boy was about to die, but knew that it couldn’t happen logically since it’s a biography.Ballard not only provides an exciting adventure story, but also great insight into the human condition. While I wouldn’t exactly call this an uplifting book, I did feel better after reading it. I feel the same way about it as I feel about Schindler’s List: I wouldn't call it enjoyable, but it's definitely something that people should read.more
On the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all European and American persons in Japanese occupied China were herded into internment camps. This is the story of one boy's war, eleven-year-old Jim who is separated from his parents on that fateful day. First living by his wits on the streets, a foreigner in the country in which he was born, and then later joining other British and Americans in an internment camp where he is used by everyone. This is a story of war and is a dark story, which progressively gets darker and darker. It was a good read but not a page-turner nor did it particularly touch me. I wish we had been given deeper insight into the other characters feelings and I had hoped for more by the ending. Nevertheless, a good read and an interesting point of view of World War II.As an aside, I have seen the movie though only the once way back when it came out. I think I may like to see it again, now that I've read the book.more
Empire of the Sun is World War 2 from the point of view of the British civilians who were left behind in Shanghai and interned by the invading Japanese.Seen through the eyes of a young British lad (the author in his childhood) cruelty seems ever present, and at the same time - or perhaps because of this - totally casual, unthinking. Yet, we see that the actual level of cruelty is rather more a cruelty of neglect, of the British; rather more sheer sadism, for the Chinese locals. The author regales us with the slow suffocation by a Japanese sergeant of a Chinese civilian; the sergeant winds coil after coil of telephone cable around the victim's chest.The film of this book was excellent and very true to the book, I thought. Nevertheless, it is worth reading the book simply for the pleasure of reading Ballard's wonderful prose: During the night the swimming pool had drained itself. Jim had never seen the tank empty, and he gazed with interest at the inclined floor. The once mysterious world of wavering blue lines, glimpsed through a cascade of bubbles, now lay exposed to the morning light.- and here we can see the origin of Ballard's obsession with drained swimming pools that repeats over and over in his fiction. Not that I'm complaining; images are the stock of the writer's trade.Empire of the Sun is the kind of book that one day I would like to be able to write. It's full of images so far removed from what we imagine as "normal" that the characters stand out in 3-D against a fever dream. If you've not read it, it is worth reading even if you've seen the movie.more
Very good, very disturbing . . . a view of war without the gloss and/or propaganda. I'm not sure how much of this is Ballard's direct experience, but it could explain a lot of his other writingmore
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Reviews

I give this one 3.5 stars but alas because no half stars are allowed 4 stars it is.

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.
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A historical novel of death and war. Ballard has an evocative style and imagery, but I admit his dialogue grated on me. One grows numb to atrocity by the end of the book, and that is its own horror.more
What a glorious book that just oozes class and the film does justice to. But then do they ever?This book is written from the viewpoint of a teenage boy,Jim,interned in a prison camp just outside Shanghai during WWII along with other western foreign nationals. Jim goes from a spoilt and luxurious lifestyle to a struggle for mere existance in a fairly rapid passage of time. Yet he manages to display a remarkable resilience, an un-dying spirit and very little malice throughout his terrible experiences but rarely does the story become maudling. Helped by the fact that it is written in the 1st person so you know Jim somehow survives.This story invoked so many feelings, from anger and disgust to laughter and hope, there are occassional dream-like sections but never does the story stray from the teenage perspective. Which is probably it's greatest achievement. The fact that this book while not auto-biographical is based on real situations and the author's own experiences is all the more remarkable. If I had one gripe is that the author, through Jim, appears to have such a poor opinion of the British and the Chinese yet very good ones of the Japanese and Americans did grate a little at times but this did not detract from a great readmore
This book was quite interesting as it told a story about a young boy who had to learn to adapt to different situations in order to survive through a war.more
"Empire of the Sun," is a semi-autobiographical novel of when J.G. Ballard was at the Lunghua Interment Camp as a boy during WWII.The story opens when the protagonist, Jim, age eleven, is with his parents at an early Christmas event, just prior to Pearl Harbor.Chinese refugees and beggars are everywhere and people become immune to their plight. As Jim's family goes to the Christmas event, their driver goes over the foot of an old beggar outside their compound. The driver doesn't stop and no one says anything.I thought this was an interesting comparison to the Bible story of the good Samaritan stopping by the road to help someone in distress. Here they were going to a Christmas party but didn't feel much of the charity of Christ.That night the Japanese attack an American and British military vessel in the harbor and war begins for Shanghai.Jim sees the war through his own eyes. He's very analytical and nonjudgmental. He's separated from his parents and spends the next few months living at his parents and their friends vacant homes, until the food is used up.Later he surrenders to the Japanese and spends most of the war at the Lunghua Interment Camp.He sees the empire of the sun when the bomb explodes at Nagasaki.As the war is coming to an end, the prisoners are moved from their camp to another at an old Olympic stadium. They are forced marched to this location and many die.I enjoyed Jim's descriptions of life, the author's slow pace in telling the story as if this is what the life was like.more
I watched the movie of this book first before reading it so even before I open the book and skim its pages, I already have the grasp of the general idea and the plot line of the book. The movie was good. In fact, it made me cry so hard so when I learned that it's based on a novel by J.G. Ballard, I decided to read the book. I thought the book would be "just like the movie" but when I started reading… from the first chapter, "The Eve of Pearl Harbor", it hit me that it's different from the movie. There are some certain differences between the two like in the book Jim was interned in Lunghua camp but in the movie he's interned in Soochow camp. Yes, the movie got the same concept as of the book… Japs, World War II, internment camps, sufferings, poverty but the book's more 'complete' or maybe 'detailed' is the appropriate term.Ballard's novel portrayed Jim with more precision that the movie. I found the Jim of the book better than the Jim of the movie. Don't get me wrong there. I'm not saying that Christian Bale (Jim) didn't act well, in fact, he was good and he carried it out really well. What I'm pointing out is the Jim in the book was described better… J.G. Ballard did a great job of creating Jim out of his experiences and imagination. What with all those childlike thoughts that he inserted in every chapter, those never-ending ideas, there's no doubt that Jim is really an amusing child. Ballard painted him beautifully with his words.But despite Ballard's amusing portrayal of Jim, the book wasn't able to induce from me some emotion like what the movie did. I never shed a tear while reading the book. I expected that I would cry while reading but then, maybe Ballard didn't intend his readers to be moved to emotions by his book. I guess his sole intention of telling the story of Jim is to dig up and remember his buried past in China particularly in Shanghai and in the internment camp where he and his parents lived for several years.I think the book is a success and I like it. It perfectly depicted the Second World War in the eyes of a child like Jim. The movie is also good in a different way. The book is better but the movie has a better ending. Gosh, I cried a bucketful of tears during the ending of the movie. The book and the movie are both a masterpiece in its own way.more
I failed to get as much out of this one as others have. It is a good tale of survival and highlights the experience of those Western expats who found themselves in the path of the Japanese onslaught, but it didn't provide me the insight into Shanghai itself that I was hoping for. I'll blame this on my own bias, since having been an expat in Shanghai, I was looking for something that was as fascinating as Georges Spunt's extraordinary account of his youth in Shanghai, A Place in Time.more
I dislike books that claim to be autobiographies, but are actually fictionalized memoirs. I’m sure we can all think of a couple that have made headlines in recent years. In the forward to his book, the author, J.G. Ballard, writes:Empire of the Sun describes my experiences in Shanghai, China, during the Second World War, and in Lunghua C.A.C (Civilian Assembly Center), where I was interned from 1942 to 1945. For the most part this novel is an eyewitness account of events I observed during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and within the camp at Lunghua.The story that he goes on to tell is heart-rending, yet inspirational. As a boy, Jim grew up in the luxurious world of a British ex-pat in Shanghai. Then, on the same day as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, eleven-year-old Jim’s life shatters. Separated from his parents in the chaos of the Japanese takeover, Jim lives in the houses of the international district until he joins forces with Basie, a lowlife who admits to trying to sell Jim and yet becomes a father figure that teaches him how to survive in this new world. Eventually caught and sent to Lunghua concentration camp, Jim works the system as he was taught, but is also helped by a friendly fellow captive, Dr. Ransome. When the war ends, danger continues to lurk as Jim strives to find his parents.Action-packed, heart-rending, and inspirational, the story makes for a page-turning read. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the book was tainted by the knowledge that J.G. Ballard was never separated from his parents and sister and lived with them in Lunghua. The difference that this one fact makes is enormous. Although I can’t discount the vivid descriptions that Ballard gives of wartime Shanghai and Lunghua, neither can I believe them, as I am constantly wondering where the line between fact and fiction lies. Give me an autobiography or give me a historical novel loosely based on the author’s experiences, but please don’t try to pass one off as the other.more
This is a difficult book for me to review. While I can appreciate the literary mastery of J.G. Ballard's "Empire of the Sun," I can't say I particularly enjoyed reading it. Ballard's autobiographical tale of Jim, a British child who does anything it takes to survive living in an interment camp during World War II in China, is incredibly stark and brutal. I disliked Jim as a character so much that it sort of tainted my enjoyment of this book. It's a tough look at some of the more negative aspects of human nature -- admittedly with stunning imagery and situations. In the end, it's a book I'm glad I read, but not one I'll ever pick up again.more
An autobiographical account of Ballard's childhood years spent during the Japanese occupation in Shanghai during World War II, Empire of the Sun is an effective and evocative tale of survival. The setting and the historical context, and the way which the two are described in a beautiful, tragic story, should fascinate students. The book can be taught with assistance from Spielberg's wonderful film adaptation.Note: contains some graphic violence.more
I finished Empire Of The Sun by JG Ballard yesterday, and it’s safe to say that it blew me away. It truly is an exceptional book, in turns moving and funny, with deep and light moments throughout.The coverline is a quote from The Guardian newspaper, calling it “The best British novel about the Second World War”, but this isn’t to say that it’s an outright war novel. It’s not even set anywhere near Britain, instead occurring in Shanghai and detailing the Japanese occupation.The central character, Jim, is a young boy at the outbreak of the war, but spends nearly three years in a POW camp just outside Shanghai, separated from his parents. He learns how to survive and protect his skin, mainly by being ultra-helpful to his fellow prisoners, often to the point of annoyance, even if he doesn’t realise it.Jim also retreats into his fantasy world, and daydreams of being a pilot in the future. He doesn’t care on whose side, just so long as he can get up in the air and truly be free. His most intense emotional experiences are always connected to the nearby airfield and its gleaming metal wonders.This novel is highly autobiographical, and it’s amazing to see how knowledgeable Ballard is of his own dizzying interest in just about everything around him. Jim is relentlessly upbeat, even in the face of death and disease at every turn. He is perhaps too trusting, but he’s also brave in his attempts to converse with his prison guards.Exquisitely written, and with intense detail of every scene, particularly the dead and the dying, this is a simply fantastic book. It truly puts the reader in Jim’s shoes, seeing everything around him destroyed, and his world turned upside down.It’s this kind of literature, part novel and part history lesson, that makes me realise just how lucky we have it nowadays. I sit here on my sofa, typing on a laptop, with nary a fear in the world, and yet just one or two generations ago people lived through (and died during) terrible atrocities which we can’t even begin to comprehend nowadays.This type of historical document, especially told through the eyes of a child, is important. It reminds us of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve still got to go.more
I often find myself not really reviewing a book but defending it from its detractors. I enjoyed Ballard’s work to the extent that after I read it I ran off to buy another by him. So when I read some of the reviews about this book, I became defensive.I do not know to what extent the book is Autobiographical, nor to what extent it was meant to be. Ballard mentions that the novel is based upon what he witnessed as a child during that period, but I think we are supposed to take that statement lightly. The main character never makes a mention of a sister. Some biographical material on Ballard brought up that after the Second World War he returned to England with his sister.It is a fine point, but one worth mentioning. Other people seem to think that tale unrealistic. I cannot comment too much – I count myself amongst the lucky who have not spent time in a concentration camp. However if we look at the text we do find a protagonist who from the young age of 10 is constantly thinking about war. In the next part of the book he is 14. War as a presence has been around his life for half of it, and War as a very real thing has been his life for a little less than a third of it, through many of what people would call formulative years. I can’t be sure, but I feel his actions could be justified.more
This book is so real. No bullshit narrative arc where Jim glorifies war and then leaarns the hard way that it's hell; no phantasmagoria of horrors, so when things do get a little hallucinatory, you're just about ready to accept it at face; no trying to impress the reader by making each episode sadder and more awful than the last (it turns out this wasn't the book I remembered from childhood where it was all forcing women to drink water and then jumping on their stomach till it burst, and stepping on babies' heads), because the endless grinding need to stay two steps ahead of the thresher to survive hits us in a less sensationalistic, more uncomfortable way--IS the next war just about to start? Is the security of modern life just a veil, so easily pulled apart forever? Is war not a catastrophe, but the natural state of humanity?

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.

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I understood that this novel was based around the real life experiences of the author's childhood in Shanghai but although this is a fine and absorbing read I encountered a problem that prevented me from warming to it entirely. I didn't believe it! The boy's reactions to his sudden wrenching away from two loving parents in a highly-priviledged and upper-class gated colonial community into the horror of Japanese invasion just didn't seem likely. He immediately becomes a self-reliant street urchin who suffers no disabilitating mourning for his parents nor his former comforts. He adapts and comforms with a hard-nosed resilience that I find hard to accept he would have possessed. Consequently, I had a slight worry about unreliable narrative syndrome, in a text that flaunted its verisimilitude.more
Enthralling true account of survival.more
A very moving and, in places, quite horribly graphic fictionalised account of the author's childhood privations in an internment camp outside Shanghai. The three dimensional descriptions show how deeply the author is drawing on his own experiences - no-one who had not gone through all this could describe it so vividly. In places the author enters an almost dreamlike state in his writing. He becomes the perpetual prisoner who actually comes to welcome the security of his prison walls as representing almost the only home he knows - a particular haunting tragedy for one so young.more
The author has drawn upon his own experiences as a child interned in a camp for POW's in Shanghai during WW2. After the bombing of Japanese forces on Pearl Harbour 'Jim' is separated from his parents. After several months surviving on the streets he is taken to a camp. This is no light read with detailed descriptions of executions, the effects of starvation and Jim's way of coping amid all the horror that surrounds him makes for a harrowing read. His survival was largely due to his youthful resilience but there can be no doubt as to the lasting trauma of such an experience.more
Empire of the Sun was, for me, quite a difficult read. I found it quite disturbing and the images it conjured up were harsh and sometimes quite shocking. In that sense, I suppose it is a fairly accurate representation of what times were like in Shanghai during WWII.Jim was a likeable enough character, but some of the others I did not care for - I wasn't particularly fond of Basie, I thought he was a bit of a user. I struggled to concentrate on the book at times, and found myself easily distracted.more
An incredible book. While reading this book I realized I had never heard much about the WW2 in the pacific outside of the American military operations of island hoping and the movies that came out of those events. I found this book very interesting. What was more surprising is it was based of Ballard's actual events that occurred to him during this time. I found myself wanting to so bad to know that everything would turn out well in the end. There were a few missing points in the book that I wish I could know the answer to, like what happened to certain individuals after the end of the book. I'm trying really hard not to spoil the book for anyone who has not read it yet. I felt my mind completely engrossed in the book and I found myself day dreaming during the day and finding myself at Lunghua camp and realizing how grateful I should be that my meal is more than just rice and a sweet potato. Would I say this book changed my life? Doubtful but it has made me more interested to read other books of the same nature, I want to go and read a book of someone who was in a concentration camp in Germany and then sit and compare what they had to go through, I would also be more interested now in reading more books of the pacific world war 2more
A novel that is also autobiography of the auther. Good description of being a kid and a victim of war. Griping enough to make you feel as part of the war.more
I would classify Empire of the Sun as an adventure novel about a boy’s life during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in WWII.The book is graphic and spares no details about how people die, but it wasn’t graphic to the point where I had to put it down. Halfway through reading this, I realized that it was not fiction and was actually an autobiography, which made it a bit more difficult to read the particularly gruesome parts.Empire of the Sun not only has an accurate portrayal of how a teenage boy would act during internment, but also the thoughts that would run through his head. There are parts in the book which had me on the edge of my seat because I was sure the boy was about to die, but knew that it couldn’t happen logically since it’s a biography.Ballard not only provides an exciting adventure story, but also great insight into the human condition. While I wouldn’t exactly call this an uplifting book, I did feel better after reading it. I feel the same way about it as I feel about Schindler’s List: I wouldn't call it enjoyable, but it's definitely something that people should read.more
On the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all European and American persons in Japanese occupied China were herded into internment camps. This is the story of one boy's war, eleven-year-old Jim who is separated from his parents on that fateful day. First living by his wits on the streets, a foreigner in the country in which he was born, and then later joining other British and Americans in an internment camp where he is used by everyone. This is a story of war and is a dark story, which progressively gets darker and darker. It was a good read but not a page-turner nor did it particularly touch me. I wish we had been given deeper insight into the other characters feelings and I had hoped for more by the ending. Nevertheless, a good read and an interesting point of view of World War II.As an aside, I have seen the movie though only the once way back when it came out. I think I may like to see it again, now that I've read the book.more
Empire of the Sun is World War 2 from the point of view of the British civilians who were left behind in Shanghai and interned by the invading Japanese.Seen through the eyes of a young British lad (the author in his childhood) cruelty seems ever present, and at the same time - or perhaps because of this - totally casual, unthinking. Yet, we see that the actual level of cruelty is rather more a cruelty of neglect, of the British; rather more sheer sadism, for the Chinese locals. The author regales us with the slow suffocation by a Japanese sergeant of a Chinese civilian; the sergeant winds coil after coil of telephone cable around the victim's chest.The film of this book was excellent and very true to the book, I thought. Nevertheless, it is worth reading the book simply for the pleasure of reading Ballard's wonderful prose: During the night the swimming pool had drained itself. Jim had never seen the tank empty, and he gazed with interest at the inclined floor. The once mysterious world of wavering blue lines, glimpsed through a cascade of bubbles, now lay exposed to the morning light.- and here we can see the origin of Ballard's obsession with drained swimming pools that repeats over and over in his fiction. Not that I'm complaining; images are the stock of the writer's trade.Empire of the Sun is the kind of book that one day I would like to be able to write. It's full of images so far removed from what we imagine as "normal" that the characters stand out in 3-D against a fever dream. If you've not read it, it is worth reading even if you've seen the movie.more
Very good, very disturbing . . . a view of war without the gloss and/or propaganda. I'm not sure how much of this is Ballard's direct experience, but it could explain a lot of his other writingmore
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