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4.4 out of 5 stars
40
Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography
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on 17 November 2008
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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on 17 July 2015
I loved it - Ballard's voice is that of a man from a English expat tradition whose experiences were at odds with the assumptions he had been brought up with - this gave him a challenging perspective on the evolving world of the sixties. I felt the second part of the book was a little rushed - I would have liked to have read more about the sixties world that he moved through (in the most elevated of cultural circles in many cases) and the movers and shakers of that mileu whom he met and worked with. His take on his own family life was very moving, as was his description of his life with his wife and her subsequent early death. Sadly by the time this book was written Ballard was 'a man in a hurry' to beat the progess of the illness which claimed him all too soon.
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on 23 March 2013
I had always admired Ballard and had thought his life was similar to mine. In a way it was at the beginning, but reading about his life after he came back to Britain I found the book was boring and he did not write enough about anything interesting that had happened to him. A lot of name dropping.
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on 13 April 2017
Fabulous - all good.
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on 12 October 2017
Very well read by TPS
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on 27 May 2017
Excellent as always from JG Ballard
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on 25 August 2009
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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on 19 January 2009
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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VINE VOICEon 23 February 2008
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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VINE VOICEon 10 February 2009
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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