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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breathtaking masterpiece
Although everything I have read by Ballard is excellent, I would recommend this book as a starting point. The author weaves autobiography with fiction in a compelling way; in some places the novel hints at the dream-like sequences that he has deployed in other works, but the story is firmly grounded in reality. The most apparent theme is that of survival, but I don't...
Published on 22 Jan 2004 by J B Hutchinson

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful
Page turning narrative but ultimately not very convincing characters. Powerful imagery and a chilling account of one reality of war. Some difficulty in maintaining consistent and credible voice of youth.
Published 20 months ago by Brian Rockliffe


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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breathtaking masterpiece, 22 Jan 2004
This review is from: Empire Of The Sun : (Paperback)
Although everything I have read by Ballard is excellent, I would recommend this book as a starting point. The author weaves autobiography with fiction in a compelling way; in some places the novel hints at the dream-like sequences that he has deployed in other works, but the story is firmly grounded in reality. The most apparent theme is that of survival, but I don't think Ballard wrote this with any kind of agenda; perhaps that's what's so refreshing about it.
One of his greatest talents as a writer is finding moments of beauty in what, for lesser writers, would be mires of ugliness. Ballard's voice is thoroughly modern throughout, despite the book's retrospective narrative: you can instantly tell this is the author of 'The Concrete Island' or 'High Rise', despite how remote those novels are from the second world war.
Those who have seen Spielberg's film will be thoroughly shocked: there is little sentimentality here, and the story is quite different in its later stages. Not that the film is a poor adaptation - rather, it's a seperate entity. Always read the book first!
It's wonderful that an author can use his past as a starting point for fiction, rather than being either grounded in it or evading it. It's hard to tell what is fact from what isn't, and surely that's a good thing.
Finally, I must stress that this is a book which not only survives several repeated reads but seems to require it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master work, 26 Mar 2009
This review is from: Empire of the Sun (Paperback)
Empire of the Sun is one of JG Ballard's more accessible books which tells the story of a young boy, Jim, and his experiences in Shanghai during World War Two. How many of the events in the book are taken directly from his experience is not entirely clear but the fact that he is informed by first hand experience gives the book a chilling authenticity.

The book is written entirely from the boy's point of view; all events and situations are described in Jim's own words and grounded in his own experience. Ballard makes no attempt to interject any adult interpretations or provide a retrospective opinion and maintains the integrity of the style throughout. This is no mean feat and is a clear indication of Ballard's talent as a writer.

A magnificent work by one of the greatest living English speaking novelists.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars old favourite, 22 Jun 2014
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E. A. Mcnair (UK) - See all my reviews
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Ordered this to read as I love the film. I still prefer the story in the film, even though only elements of it are close to the truth, it is just a story. It was almost disappointing to discover the book so different, and the true story different again. However, I still enjoyed the book, if something so harrowing can be enjoyed. It was certainly thought provoking, and made more tragic being seen from the point of a child, whose mind cannot understand/accept what is really happening and insists on seeing things as it/he wishes them to be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 3 Mar 2014
By 
Davecg99 (Hampshire, England) - See all my reviews
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I enjoyed this book. I had seen Steven Spielberg's film of the story a couple of times and while looking for another book, I saw this one and decided to get it. It goes along at a good pace and is fairly autobiographical as it tells of the 2nd World War adventures of the young J. G. Ballard in Shanghai, though as we find out in notes at the end of the book that Ballard had changed some things from his memory. These changes don't spoil the book in any way though and I recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Empire of the Ballardian, 24 Sep 2008
Wonderful, troubling, comic and brutal. Ballard's (barely fictionalised) account of his detention as a teenage expat in China during World War II is shot through with the thematic impulses which dominate his work - the dislocation of modernity, the seductive powers of planes and cars, the ugly underbelly of bourgeois lives, and the pleasure people take in disaster.

Despite the extreme violence central to Ballardian fiction, Empire of the Sun contains his most viscerally and physically disturbing images as the young Jim passes the rotting bodies of Japanese pilots and Chinese peasants and moves among the emaciated shapes of the upper-class English kept in the prison camps. Jim's narrative is peppered with the trials of everyday life in war - securing the next potato, passing the boring hours, negotiating the outdated social manners of adults. All of this renders the nightmares of bloodied corpses banal, and all the more disturbing for that.

This deserves its reputation as a classic. It is, however, improved considerably by taking Will Self's advice and exposing yourself to the more nominally 'fictional' of Ballard's novels (notably Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition and the Drought) before delving in here - your experience of the Ballardian social conscience will be all the richer for it.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best book i have read in a very long time, 4 Dec 2006
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Breathe Music (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Empire of the Sun (Paperback)
This book is simply fantastic. I usually read fantasy but remembered the film as a child and then bought the book. I read the book then watched the fim again and i advise that you read the book first as the film no where near captures the true desolation, despair, euphoria, death,hunger, desperation, fear and love that the book invokes in vision and mind. This may be because the film was directed at a younger audience whereas the book i feel is directed toward adults both in its theme and style.

The book is set in second world war japan and tells the heart rending story of Jim who becomes separated from his well to do parents in shanghai in a crushing crowd of fleeing people in the midddle of the city after Japan attacks America at Pearl Harbour. In the ensuing chaos jim returns home and waits there for 4 days for his parents who he does not know have been taken as prisoners of war along with most other westerners.

After exhausting his food supply he goes in search of his parents nad for more food,even trying to surrender to the japanese, with no luck. He befreinds 2 US soldiers philandering on the waterfront whom Jim attached himself for survival in spite of their attempts to sell him to uninterested Japanese. What ensues could most possibly be the best writing of all time considering fiction which still never ceases to amaze me. Jim ends up in a PoW camp himself, and is made even more true by JG Ballards own real life experience in a Japanese PoW camp and Jim's survival instinct coupled with his innate childishness is makes for a truly remembering read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Baby King Rat, 10 Aug 2012
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Officer Dibble (Zummerzet) - See all my reviews
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The shocking brutality of life in and around a Japanese Internment Camp. The bookends of the story are Pearl Harbour and Nagasaki.

The triumph of this novel is to tell this horrific story through the eyes of young Jim a ten year old boy separated from his parents and effectively an orphan. The harrowing details of, inter alia, forced death marches, being literally worked to death in the construction of an airstrip, casual and extreme brutality, starvation, are all perceived from a child's viewpoint.

This is a child who is so hungry he 'sucks his own knuckles, grateful for the taste of his own pus' yet who still admires the Japanese pilots and, extremely controversially, regards the British 'as passive as the Chinese peasants'. Because it is told from the child's viewpoint it almost acted as a defence mechanism for the reader, otherwise it would have been tempting to avert one's eyes in disgust.

This gripping novel shows what happens when the veneer of civilisation is removed and Jim pursues his extraordinary childhood without any parental or moral authority.

The fact that much of the content is autobiographical adds gravitas. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and flawed, 26 July 2013
This review is from: Empire of the Sun (Paperback)
There are already some very thoughtful reviews posted here about this book, but for what it's worth, here is another.

I finished reading the book this evening and I found it to be a profoundly moving, excellently written piece of work. Ballard's musings on the essential nature of war and on the speed at which humanity can disintegrate in the struggle to survive, were some of the best I've read.

However, I found the degree of physical and geographical description increasingly laborious as the book went on. The story's locations are described in relentless detail, particularly in the book's later sections, in addition to which, Ballard employs a large amount of technical jargon relating to planes, tanks etc, which, (unless I'm alone in my ignorance), will flummox most readers. In spite of the great weight of descriptive detail, I still struggled to picture many of the book's key locations. At times the Lunghua camp seemed like a relatively small compound but at the end it is revealed to be much larger. Similarly, there are several instances when characters apparently travel for days away from a particular location only to zip back there on foot. By the end, I had no idea whether Shanghai and its outlying areas covered hundreds of square miles or just a couple.
In my opinion, the book was far more effective when Ballard evoked the mood and feel of the different locations through more poetic language - something he does exceptionally well.
I was also surprised that Ballard repeats certain descriptive phrases and similes at different points in the novel. I realise that the book makes powerful use of recurring motifs but the repetition of such similes as, the dead looking as though they'd been dropped from the sky, and the network of canals as 'maze-like', cheapened it a bit.

It could of course be argued that all of the above is justified by the narrative being told through the eyes of a child. Indeed, the narrative viewpoint is largely what makes the book so moving. However, it is also the aspect of the book which is most inconsistent. Many of the points in the book where Jim is closest to madness, are also those in which the description is at its most exhaustive. Sometimes, we see things, unambiguously, through Jim's eyes, experiencing his lack of comprehension, his struggle to make sense of the horrors around him, while at others, the perspective is clearly that of the adult Ballard. By turns Jim is presented as childlike, perhaps even immature (his language barely changes between 10 and 14) and then as sophisticated.

All these criticisms aside, I think this is a remarkable novel and one which I will return to in the future. Certain passages, certain images will stay with me for a long long time. It is because this book is such a powerful piece of work that I have taken the time to offer my own opinions on some of its possible flaws.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have read in my life!!, 17 Nov 2001
By A Customer
This book has a gripping view of the war taken from a ten year old boy about the war between Japan and the U.S.A. The boy lived with his family in China, Shanghai when the war started, he gets separated from his family and tries to reunite again. I find it the best British novel about the second world war. It tells you about how people are treated by the enemy and how they forget everything including there manners, friends and any relationships as they struggle to live. J.G.Ballard has his own magical way in writing tragic books. He uses lots of amazing vocabulary to interest you. A summary of what I have written now is that in my opinion I find the book an unputdownable book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and very vivid writing, 30 Oct 2008
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empire Of The Sun : (Paperback)
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.
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Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard (Paperback - 28 Aug 2014)
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