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4.4 out of 5 stars96
4.4 out of 5 stars
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 8 December 2013
4.5 stars.

Having read Schindler's Ark just last week, this made a fascinating counterpoint, WWII on uh other side of the world, where people may not have been treated as needing extermination, but in actual fact were still appallingly treated.

Jim (Jamie to his parents) is 11 when the home he knows in Shanghai is taken by the Japanese. Fending for himself, his parents vanished, Jim does what he must to survive, his instinct to live overcoming pride and dignity. Through Jim we see the harsh reality of life for a conquered people, the strong and opportunistic who thrive on the chaos of war, the prison conditions that many didn't survive.

And that fact that it's based on the author's own experiences is both illuminating and saddening, that a boy and probably many more like him had to grow up instantly or die.

There are no holds barred in prison life descriptions, and you can really picture the people Jim encounters, though the guards and Japanese in general (as well as the indigenous Chinese) are sketchily written: it's all about the Western prisoners.

Not a light read but powerful and a very good insight into the war in the East.
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on 12 March 2012
The quote on the back of this book from a review by Anthony Burgess is true - that it is 'almost intolerably moving'.

This is surprising as there is not a hint of sentiment in this description of the corpse-strewn apocalyptic deathscape of Ballard's Shanghai internment camp before, during and just after the Second World War.

Empire of the Sun moves the reader because, every so often, maybe only two or three times in the book, a character notices that the endlessly suffering but stubbornly cheerful boy rushing around the camp on an exhausting round of errands is a child alone in a world which terrifies, brutalises and finally kills many of the adults around him. And then we notice.

The boy, Jim, feels the closest sympathy to the kamikaze pilots at Lunghua airfield barely older than himself, sent unregarded and unmissed to their deaths. His brief meeting with a lost kamikaze boy is a recognition of their sameness, rather than their difference.

As Jim knows, it is only by accident, or luck, that life chooses to claim him long after he has begun to believe what millions of Chinese know from birth, that we are all already as good as dead.
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on 22 January 2004
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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on 26 March 2009
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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on 24 September 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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on 10 July 2013
This book is not like Ballard's other books. It doesn't have the dystopian quality of his other novels. It's very matter-of-fact, almost to the point of being cold and detached, but I think this may link to the biographical aspect of the novel and the need to remove oneself from certain experiences.

But the need to be detached is one of the things I enjoyed about the novel. Jim is a young boy who is separated from his parents during WW2 Shanghai, and he associates himself with anyone from Japanese soldiers and merchant seaman in Shanghai in order to survive, before he ends up in a prison camp. Here he again attaches himself to a variety of people in order to have some kind of family and stability.

He sees the world from a different perspective and does not seem overly affected by the lack of food and high levels of death he sees on a daily basis. He has the need to survive and does so in order to protect himself.

I think this is one of the best books i've read in a while and although the experiences are not something I can relate to it did make me sympathise with the characters and their situation.
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on 22 May 2014
Incredibly well written and engrossing. I've read it three times so far - in the space of about 2 years. But there again I also read High Rise, Super Cannes and Cocaine Nights three times in the first year I had these books. Obviously much grittier and "realistic" than Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes. I won't go into the story and actual writing, as other review discuss this in detail.

It's very sad that J G Ballard didn't gain a reputation as an author during his lifetime with the general public, he seems to have been more much acknowledged by literary types and by other writers. He's been described as not being "mainstream" for want of a better phrase, but I find his work far more readable than say, Martin Amis, and a whole lot less depressing than a lot of books my John Irving.
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on 4 December 2006
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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on 2 February 2012
The blinding light from the atomic bombs dropped on Japan... A group of colonial prisoners from a Japanese interment camp on a death march carrying suitcases, tennis racquets and cricket bats... A rickshaw driver brutally clubbed to death and his rickshaw smashed to pieces by Japanese internment guards in retribution for an American air raid... Crashed Zero fighters being stripped for their scrap by Chinese scrap dealers... B29s dropping canisters containing: Spam, Chesterfields, Reader's Digest and Life magazines...
These powerful images and many others make this book an essential account of the war in Shanghai and its aftermath through the eyes of a youthful JG Ballard, autobiographical or not this book is a masterpiece in my opinion and worth returning to repeatedly, one of my top ten books.
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on 8 April 2014

Cover different to that on Amazon. School library edition. 3/5


Having read J G Ballard's biography I expected repetition but here he seems to have captured the voice of youth describing events in a way only possible if the writer had actually seen and felt them.

I read on with interest ...

Finished 14th April 2014. An enjoyable read despite the often gruesome background. Not sure about the ending given a skillful build up of uncertainty. An interesting youthful eye view of adults in dire circumstances in a hard to understand world of conflict and change.

I will now have to see the film.

Alexander of Allrighters and Ywnwab!
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