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Empire of the Sun Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Having read Schindler's Ark just last week, this made a fascinating counterpoint, WWII on the other side of the world, where people may not have been treated as requiring 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.
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Brilliantly written through the eyes of a small boy trying to survive through the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Kindle Customer
Great book and a lot of depth to it, wont give away the plot but worth a read. Very interesting.Published 6 months ago by Mummy0412
Went on a bit too long, but a readable and quite enjoyable book.Published 6 months ago by S. Perkins
War viewed from a child's standpoint. Do they agree about who is a friend and who is an enemy? Fictionalised but based on fact.Published 6 months ago by Mrs. Hazel P. Manley
Couldn't put this book down! It pulled me in from the first chapter with an excellent story finely honed, beautifully drawn characters and a bonus of being historically... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mary Jefford