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Empire of the Sun (1984)

by J.G. Ballard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Empire of the Sun (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,189612,866 (3.93)1 / 275
The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg's film, tells of a young boy's struggle to survive World War II in China.Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.Shanghai, 1941 -- a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war...and the dawn of a blighted world.Ballard's enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Kindness of Women by J. G. Ballard (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: The follow-up to Empire of the Sun.
  2. 11
    The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java by Ernest Hillen (slickdpdx)
  3. 00
    That Eye, the Sky by Tim Winton (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: Empire of the Sun can be paired with That Eye, the Sky by Tim Winton or Harper Lee's To kill a Mockingbird. In all three books the authors speak through the childhoods of their main characters.
  4. 01
    Children of Hiroshima by Arata Osada (bertilak)

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English (54)  French (2)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Jim's silver lining
war is a grand adventure
just go a bit nuts. ( )
1 vote Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
I don't know whether it's a mistake to read all the other things this great SF author has read first and THEN read this brilliant WWII novel of a young kid lost in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation or whether it might be best to see all the wildness of his short stories, longer fictions, and utter fascination with flying and emotional deadening in the middle of tragedy FIRST.

Or whether everyone and anyone with even a slight interest in reading one of the very best novels of the war should drop everything else on their list and jump right into this.

I admit I watched the Spielberg film back in the day, utterly fascinated and totally identifying with Jim, the main character, who just happened to be played by a young Christian Bale, admitting that while this kind of movie was NOTHING like the kinds of movies or books I preferred, and yet falling for it completely...

...right down to the dead-eyed stares after so much starvation, death, and Jim's last vestiges of innocent wonder and miracles retained throughout the very worst that humanity has to offer.

I've seen the movie like four times.

And yet, I only just now read the book AFTER having read several others by the same author AND the complete short story collection.


Maybe I should have started with this. It's brilliant. No two ways about it. I broke down into tears and was amazed by how much further the book takes it even after KNOWING what to expect from the movie.

I'm not exactly NEW to this genre. I shouldn't have been affected this hard. I shouldn't have had to stop the book for several minutes at a time because I couldn't breathe right. It was just... almost... too much for me. Emotionally. I'm wrecked.

Sure, the movie is a good intro or perhaps a companion to this brilliant novel, but by NO MEANS should the novel be skipped. It's just one of those brilliant classics that may be regarded as timeless.

No pressure, right? ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Amazing read. Reminded me of a combination The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Slaughterhouse 5. Like Slaughterhouse 5, war is presented as relentless death. Yet the contrasts produced by viewing this relentlessness through the lens of a boys own adventure create a far more horrific juxtaposition. Imagine Huck Finn's son climbing over a pile of corpses at Gettysburg and you've got half of it. Now imagine why this boy would be laughing at you've got the rest.

What Slaughterhouse 5 achieves through repetition ("So it goes"), Empire of the Sun works out through dramatic irony--Huckleberry Finn's comic device turned towards a far darker purpose. It would take a dissertation to dig out the layers of naivete in this book. Sometimes the adults know what Jim does not. Sometimes Jim knows what the adults do not. Sometimes Jim hallucinates due to hunger and fatigue. Sometimes things Jim thinks were hallucinations turn out to be (or are already known by the reader to be) real. And so on. It is not simply the Jim's world that is destroyed, but his ability to relate to the world that ends. For Ballard to have written "and then one day the war came and everything was different" would have been one thing. Instead, he essentially writes here is "and one day the war came and then there was nothing".

The world itself, by the way, strikes me as the final referent for the 'Empire of the Sun'. While the phrase obviously refers to Japan, Japan itself is barely referred to at all in the novel, concerned as it is not with political abstractions like nations, but instead with Jim's personal experiences, i.e. with Japanese soldiers, pilots, and, more often than not, corpses. The Sun's empire is of course the world it shines down upon, and the end of Japan's imperial ambitions are reflected in the end of Jim's world.

Wait, I don't know if that last bit made sense.

So, yeah. As always, more could be said. These are just notes to myself really. I'll just add that I found this book quite moving, in both a personally and deeply odd way. I strongly identified with Jim, yet, relatively speaking, I have never even suffered at all. I find myself wondering 'How could this be?' ( )
1 vote ralphpalm | Nov 11, 2019 |
When I saw the film based on this book in the late 1980's I decided it was a book I should read. All these years later I get to it. This is a semi-autobiographical memoir that feels completely authentic. It is the story of an english boy living with his parents in the International Settlement of Shanghai that begins with the day Pearl Harbor was bombed and the Japanese taking over the international settlement and attacking/capturing British and American ships there. Young Jim is separated from his parents at the outbreak, and this is his story. Ballard writes in the foreword to the novel that this is for the most part an eyewitness account of his experiences from 1942-1945.

I think the most remarkable thing about this book is that from the very beginning the boy takes all the death that surrounds him very matter-of-factly. The story is sad, sometimes scary, and gives a view of things one does not commonly find elsewhere. There's an odd dichotomy here - for the most part the Japanese were the least of Jim's problems and he survived because of them - however, the Japanese overrunning Shanghai was what created all the problems in the first place. It was an unsettling read and disturbed my dreams for many nights. It is however an excellent book and I look forward to reading Ballard's autobiography next, since I want to learn more about his early life. I cannot fathom how an 11-14 year old child can come through an experience like he had.

Recommended. Review written in 2016 ( )
  RBeffa | Sep 4, 2019 |
How can such a difficult story be told in such an easy, almost matter-of-fact way? I have no idea, but it certainly is effective.

Will be looking for more of Ballard's writings! ( )
  Sammystarbuck | Sep 2, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ballard, J.G.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bouman, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doyle, PatCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ligtenberg, LucasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nieman, ChristophCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Tangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adrift from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund.
James had told his parents nothing of all this. Nor had he confided in Dr. Ransome, who clearly suspected that Jim had chosen to stay on at Lunghua after the armistice, playing his games of war and death.
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