Thursday, July 27, 2006

Review of Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

1984, Simon and Schuster
279 pgs
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Yangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adrift from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund.

Reason for Reading: I couldn’t decide between three books and so I turned to my husband and asked him if I should visit Shanghai, Bombay or Israel/Palestine. He chose Shanghai and so off I went . . .

From the Publisher: "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." J. G. 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.

Comments: There are many reasons why I prefer to read a book before I see the movie based on that particular book. Unfortunately, I was unable to do that in this case. It was years after first seeing the movie, Empire of the Sun, that I realized it was based on a book. Better late than never, I suppose.

Empire of the Sun is one of my favorite movies and therefore the book had a lot to live up to. Having seen the film several times, my image of Jim will always be that of a young Christian Bale and Basie will always wear John Malkovich’s face. Shanghai and the internment camp just outside the city will always be the version Steven Spielberg created.

In the novel, J.G. Ballard shares his experiences in Shanghai and the Lunghua Camp during World War 2, weaving his own experiences into a fictional tale that tells the story of a young British boy, Jim, who is separated from his parents as the war begins and forced into an internment camp with other European and American civilians. Readers experience the war and life in the camp through the eyes of a boy who doesn’t quite understand all that is going on around him. And yet, Jim understands enough to know how to survive-he learns quickly to adapt both physically and mentally and his resilience keeps him alive. Throughout the book, Jim maintained a sort of naivety that made him a more endearing character, even as his experiences hardened him. He took joy where he could and being so young, it was easier for him to accept what was happening to him and use it to his advantage. He knows that his friends will only use him until they no longer need him. J.G. Ballard pulled no punches in describing the horrible conditions, the death, and the war.

Favorite Part: My favorite part was when the Japanese pilot hands Jim a mango in the airfield. Jim’s love for planes and admiration for the Japanese soldiers was a constant reminder that we are all human. One of my favorite characters in the novel is Dr. Ransome. He was most like a father figure for Jim, constantly looking out for his well being—his health and his education.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Wendy...Have enjoyed reading your reviews very much. I think you have a real talent for it. Linda - from a few of your groups.


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