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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully told
This is a curious mixture of a book. Granted that it was written under strained and special circumstances, it is both revealing and concealing in equal measure. If you are familiar with Ballard's work and have taken an interest in him over the years, you will find nothing new here. It is, however, a joy to have it in one volume. And for all its apparent superficiality, we...
Published on 18 Mar. 2008 by G Talboys

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars MIRACLES OF LIFE.
Whilst not a big fan of memoirs/autobiographies in general I did enjoy Empire Of The Sun and so had a passing interest in this author.

The child of British parents living in Shanghai, JG (James 'Jim') Ballard spent his formative years incarcerated in a Japanese prisoner of war camp which having read this obviously informed much of his 1984 novel...
Published 8 months ago by Tracy Terry


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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully told, 18 Mar. 2008
By 
G Talboys - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life (Hardcover)
This is a curious mixture of a book. Granted that it was written under strained and special circumstances, it is both revealing and concealing in equal measure. If you are familiar with Ballard's work and have taken an interest in him over the years, you will find nothing new here. It is, however, a joy to have it in one volume. And for all its apparent superficiality, we learn a great deal about Ballard from the structure and level of content of this work.

Nearly half the book is devoted to Ballard's first fifteen years, the time he lived in Shanghai and experienced the strange life of an expatriate community as well as internment by the Japanese. This is also the most fluent and vibrant part of the book.

It may well be that writing of his early life in his fiction, especially in Empire of the Sun, means he is well rehearsed. But it is clear these formative years are seared not just into his memory, but also his psyche. The things he saw and experienced have re-appeared time and again in his writings, sometimes filtered, but always from the same roots.

Elsewhere, there is a reticence, a shyness that produces a sketchy feeling, as if we are seeing an early draft. A pioneer of explorations into the sf of `inner space', his own inner space is closely guarded. Yet what he chooses to conceal is revealing in itself. He speaks of family life, for example, but whilst it is clear that his family was the bright sun at the centre of his universe, dimmed for a while by the sudden death of his wife, it is also clear that the rest is nobody's business but his own and theirs. I find this wonderfully refreshing - we are strangers, after all, those of us who read his books.

As a writer myself, I confess I was disappointed that Ballard did not discuss how he wrote or consider the processes by which developed certain styles, especially his concentrated novels. I would love to have known more of those early days and the discussions he had with other writers of the so-called `New Wave'. On the other hand I am not altogether surprised. Whilst undoubtedly a highly intelligent man and a skilled and innovative writer, he has never been one of the `literati', self-dissecting and self-obsessed. His work must (and does) speak for itself - with a voice that is robust, fluent, exciting, innovative, often tackling the controversial, but always worth listening to.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great memoir, 17 Nov. 2008
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D. Glowacki (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography (Paperback)
l have never read a Ballard book,but found this auto-biography very enjoyable.His narrative is simple and direct,yet it delivers with vigour and zest.This is really two books.The first is the real feast for the reader,his growing up in China and all the English snobbery and meanness.Chinese starved to death,in front of the ex-pat communities, and brutally,tortured and killed by the Japanese.The second book is his life in England.An Englishman who had never been to England.His shock at how the arrogance of the ex-pats contrasted that with the listlessness and low quality of life in England.After the initial shock of finding Britain very different to ex-pat nostalgia,the book flattens out into a little more mundane expose of the rest of Ballards life,and it does not live up to the first book of Shanghai.The photos of him as a 4 year old and his subsequent children are a delight.Ballard was one of a dying generation that lived across the old,decaying world of the colonial ex-pat and new world of youth culture and modern art and fiction,pre 60s and post 60s,and his recollection make for a fantastic holiday or christmas read.A joyous ride through time
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psycho-SF and Change, 25 Aug. 2009
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography (Paperback)
J.G. Ballard's candid autobiography impresses through its hallucinatory evocation of the human (war, social, psychological) scenery, the unfolding of the deep sources and motivations of his authorship and the emotions in his life as a family man.

Human scenery
As a young boy in Shanghai, J. G. Ballard was unsettled by the deep social differences between the wealthy foreign bourgeoisie and the extreme poverty of the local population with `orphans left to starve in doorways'.
The picture became even grimmer when the Japanese invaded China and war atrocities (clubbing to death) became nearly an everyday street scene. `Starving families sat around the gates, the women wailing and holding up their skeletal children.'
On his return to England after the war, he was confronted with the English class system, `an instrument of political control'. For the higher classes `change was the enemy of everything they believed in.' Meanwhile, the living standard of the working class was dreadful: `how bleakly they lived, how poorly paid, educated, housed and fed ... a vast exploited workforce, not much better off than the industrial workers in Shanghai.'
Studying in Cambridge he saw that for the inmates `heterosexuality was a curious choice.'

His family life
At the beginning of the 20th century, `children were an appendage to parents, somewhere between the servants and an obedient Labrador' and `childhood was a gamble with disease and early death.' To the contrary, J.G. Ballard was a father and a mother for his children after the early death of his wife.

Writer
His medical studies in Cambridge (dissection) taught him `that though death was the end, the human imagination and the human spirit could triumph over our own dissolution.'
As an editor of a scientific magazine `Chemistry and Industry', he read at first hand reports on new discoveries in the drug, computer and nuclear weapons industries.
He saw the originality and vitality of Science Fiction, which he wanted to `interiorize' by `looking for the pathology that underlay the consumer society, the TV landscape and the nuclear arms race.' For him, writers of so-called serious fiction wrote first and foremost about themselves.
Other deep influences were Freud and the surrealists, who showed him a more real and meaningful world.
As a writer he considered himself a lifelong outsider and maverick, devoted to predicting and provoking change.

Themes and vision on mankind
Against all these backgrounds, J.G. Ballard saw perspicaciously that `human beings have far darker imaginations' than normally accepted. Human beings are often irrational and dangerous.' Mankind is ruled by reason and self-interest only when it suits us.
Fundamentally, his fiction `is the dissection of a deep pathology, witnessed in Shanghai and expressed in the threat of nuclear war and the assassination of J.F. Kennedy.'

The result of all these unsettling confrontations and psycho-pathological insights are masterpieces like `Empire of the Sun' or disturbing provocative nightmares of auto-destruction like `Crash'.

This book is a must read for all amateurs of English and world literature and or the admirers of J. G. Ballard's iconoclastic prose.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and beautifully written autobiography, 23 Feb. 2008
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CRP - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life (Hardcover)
Quite simply, this was a joy to read.

Ballard tells of his childhood in Shanghai, internment there under the Japanese, his university years in England, right through to his writing career and the joys and tragedies he's experienced as a father and husband, and his love of family life.

What makes this book appealing is that it's not only well written and direct, but also that Ballard tells his story with an honesty and poignancy that is so rare in many autobiographies today.

This isn't about Ballard the writer, but about the circumstances and events that shaped and formed his personal values and beliefs.

You don't have to have read Ballard's fiction to enjoy this book either (although his Shanghai reminisces provide a fascinating insight into Empire of the Sun, the novel based on his internment experiences).

What stands out above all else is his enjoyment of childhood and subsequent selfless devotion and enjoyment of family through all the joys and tragedy he experienced.

His life affirming views on childhood, fatherhood, and single parenthood set this book apart from those hundreds of other autobiographies available that only tell of how individuals found (or lost) their fame or fortune.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Degrees Of Separation?, 13 Oct. 2009
By 
Ian Millard - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life (Hardcover)
I had never heard of the author until I saw the film version of Empire of the Sun, perhaps his most popular work. Apparently, he is an eminent, if not pre-eminent British writer. This book tells his life story in outline, concentrating somewhat on his upbringing in Shanghai, where he lived with his parents in a house which might have been in Surrey or Berkshire and which, amazingly, has survived wars, revolutions and China's emergence into superpower status.

Ballard sees life with, I should say, a clear and even cold eye, perhaps the result of his solitary childhood and early teenage years interned in a Japanese-run camp (in an industrial building) in Shanghai. He later saw, at the end of the war, Japanese soldiers casually strangling or otherwise killing some of the Chinese people around. He comes to the UK for the first time in 1946, to be amazed by how defeated the "victorious" British look, "putty faced people" in "shabby" houses. When he visits his terminally tight-fisted grandparents in the Midlands, he surmises that their meanness with money (which is undeniably a British trait even today in many cases) came from wartime rationing. He wonders whether it would have been better not to declare war on Germany in 1939 (I certainly agree with that, but for different reasons) and, on entering Cambridge, realizes pretty quickly that much of it is a kind of ivy-covered theme park, with modern scientific additions. Yes. He has little time for the delusions of Britain then (which largely persist today). He abandons medicine, however, for writing.

His own views are largely kept under wraps, though it is obvious that he is an atheist, perhaps one of those who think that if God, the Gods, spiritual forces or intelligent design existed, then He or they would not permit the kind of things he saw in Shanghai. And he sees no Spirit in the cadavers he has to dissect on the post-mortem tables and so assumes the absence of spirit generally.

I found this a very interesting well-written book on the whole. I was amused by his dry linking of a sci-fi expo in London in 1955 with the people in the UK today: the "muscleman husband" and his "stripper wife" living in the suburbs. Is this not very much the case today, in the cramped private developments which are home to so many British people, the shaven-headed man and sex-and-celebrity-obsessed woman in their little post-Thatcherite dream world, the home they "own" (apart from the 90% mortgage) and the tiny patch of "garden" with deck and "water feature"?

I was also intrigued that one of his friends in the camp at Shanghai was one Cyril Goldbert, later to find belated theatrical fame as Peter Wyngarde, the star of British TV's 1960's spy spoof Department S. I recall seeing the latter day Wyngarde of the late 1970's a few times, he dressed in a black cat suit, at the bar of the Kensignton Rifle and Pistol Club, where I was then a member (and he on the Committee).

Ballard is largely unjudgmental (on the surface) but does allow some bile to come out, I think understandably, against the subsidized (Arts Council, Lottery "good causes") literary and artistic world. As he says why should a working man's taxes be used to subsidize the literary hobbies of the sons of "North London" (code for Jewish?) doctors? He names in particular "the late editor of the New Review" whom he describes as "an unpleasant Sho idler". I recall decades ago Private Eye referring to "Ian Hamilton's pathetic New Review", a magazine I have never seen, perhaps fortunately!

Worth reading.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read, 23 Feb. 2008
By 
The Soft Machine Operator (COVENTRY, WARWICKSHIRE United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life (Hardcover)
I couldn't put this down. Ballard writes about his time in Shanghai and makes it seem as normal as my own childhood. Then he returns to the UK - a country he has never been to - and feels a complete stranger.

Ballard's fiction is offbeat and surreal, but completely original - and this autobiography is almost an explanation of where it all came from. Fans of Ballard will find this almost an extension to his fiction.

I could not put this down. The writing is evocative without being wordy, and every page is filled with interesting thoughts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, moving, heartbreaking, 10 Feb. 2009
By 
Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life (Hardcover)
To those of us who know and love his work, J G Ballard is a national treasure, a stunningly imaginative author of works such as "Crash", "Empire of the Sun", and "Concrete Island" (my personal favourite). Here, he tells the story of his life, from his time as a boy in Shanghai, held in a prisoner of war camp with his parents - unlike its fictionalised portrayal in "Empire..." - through his army years, parenthood, and to the present day.

If I had to criticise the book at all I'd say that it doesn't reveal much about how he writes, his inspirations and so on, and also suddenly jumps a few decades at the end, but these are trivial quibbles. The book is unforgettable, and devastatingly moving - I challenge any reader to be tear-free on completion of the final page. If this turns out to be his final book it serves as a fine epitaph. Unreservedly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ballardian, 12 Aug. 2009
By 
technoguy "jack" (Rugby) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography (Paperback)
Ballard was a one off.He came to fiction via his exciting but scary experiences in Shanghai as a young man where he had been born, as written about in Empire of the Sun.This made him totally unique as an English writer,who viewed England through the prism of SF. He was an outsider and with his scientific training and his love of surrealism he approached the English novel by predicting future scenarios out of present trends.He created the landscapes of shopping malls, airports, motorways, a suburban dystopia that is our modern world.This is the psychopathology of the everyday.He used SF to journey inwards into nightmare psychologies.He was refreshingly different to the metropolitan oxbridge elite of English fiction,having had to bring up 3 children in Shepperton when his 1st wife died.He declined a CBE due to his dislike of the outmoded system of monarchical institutions.He was a thoroughly engaging man who spoke with great fluency in interviews about his major preoccupations eg consumerism. He was not of the establishment and did not frequent London's writers gatherings,but he had a large following amongst younger writers who shared his vision.His influence was felt on art, cinema,architecture as well as pop music and modern life.He is the man asking us to beware the bend in the road(speed up,slow down).

He shed our sickness(cultural,psychic) in his books.That's why he's a visionary,forceful writer,not a psychiatric case.Indeed his best review was"he is beyond psychiatric help"!The child was father to the man and like a child he had a strange uncanny way of looking at modern life.His true genius lay in the short story form but he earned his living through writing and he earned his writing through living.He captured the trends in our secular,suburban nightmare and tapped into the fascism of submerged forces.He dissected the world of supermarkets,motorways,high-rises and airports like a cadaver,the drained swimming pools and empty hotels.Change was in the stage set waiting to be swept away of our civilization.A true gentleman who envisaged amorality because of his morality.He carried on the vision of the dystopian future not too far ahead both enjoyable and terrifying.

The memoir is a surprisingly simple,direct recounting of his major experiences without rancour viz:- Shanghai, birth and childhood in colony of expats working and living there,the contrasts of wealth and poverty;the Japanese invasion and internment in the Lunghua Camp where he talks of a 'happy, stable childhood' where "any shocks that shaped my character came not from my family, but from the outside world".His witnessing of the cruelty of the Japanese to the Chinese peasantry,observing them kill a man or two;his experience of Americans in the camp and aboard the ship returning to England.The bleak post-war England that didn't tally with the expats vision, a ruined country.His experiences as a Cambridge medical undergraduate.His experiences in the RAF in Canada. Meeting and marrying his wife Mary, and having 3 children,all the time writing his short stories and 1st novels.Then the 2nd major formative event, the death of his wife; a major shock that changed the course of his more radical fiction; his raising of 3 children,he says his happiest years, and you believe him. His love of foreign cinema, psychoanalysis and surrealism and dislike of the angry young men school of literature. He speaks well of the few literary friendships like Amis,Moorcock,Sinclair and Self, preferring really to make friends with visual artists. Although this is written when he was dying of prostate cancer,this is an offbeat,warm and sincere memoir by a remarkable man.He does give some insight into how reverently Speilberg filmed his Empire of the Sun,how moved he is by the whole process,reliving scenes from his early childhood.Later,again visiting Amherst Avenue and G-Block, Lunghua Camp with a TV crew,who are shooting a documentary of his life.This book gives a good insight into the formative psychology of the man behind the writer,but little of the writing itself.

Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The miracle of Mr Ballard, 19 Jan. 2009
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This review is from: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography (Paperback)
I read my first Ballard stories about 16 years ago and was mesmerised by his slightly off-kilter worlds. Recently flicking through the collected short stories I was amazed to find them still just as compelling. Reading these stories from the 1950s you hardly get a sense that they were written over 50 years ago. This is why Ballard is unique. Other Science Fiction writers of the period tended to concentrate on the technology of the future or on the society and politics of the future. Ballard was more interested in the inner world. This has given his writing a greater longevity.

Miracles of Life is a wonderful autobiography of one of the greatest British writers of the last century. Whether or not you are a fan of his work this is a fascinating read. The style is very different from that of his novels and short stories. Ballard's fiction can be quite surreal but this book is written in a simple style describing his childhood in Shanghai, including a couple of years interned by the Japanese during the war. He then goes on to describe his beginnings as a writer, his interest in psychology and art (particularly surrealism), the death of his wife and the years as a single father.

He never complains about the difficulties he has faced, always focusing on the positive. For people who are interested in his work there is plenty of insight into the influences which have fed into his unique style of writing. This is one of the best biographies I have read for years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars you just don't see it, 23 Feb. 2011
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Mrs. Patricia M. Reid (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography (Paperback)
Perhaps you have to be be english and of Ballard's generation (more or less) to pick up on the power of this deceptively simple book. He's by far the best writer we've produced in the 20th century - and yes, Shanghai experiences regardless, he is english to his core. Reading this was like a seeing through a window into the truth about the last 50 years, take it from me if you haven't experienced England since the war for yourself. Bomb sites to celebrity culture. Only JG could do it. That is not a casual remark. Read it as a historical document as much as a brilliantly written piece (which it is)
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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography
Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography by J. G. Ballard (Paperback - 10 April 2014)
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