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J G Ballard: Empire of the Sun

This is nominally a novel but it is, in fact, a barely fictionalised account of Ballard’s boyhood in Shanghai and, in particular, as a prisoner of war of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. In that respect, it is the least typical and most naturalistic of Ballard’s novels as he tells the story of Jim (himself). We follow Jim’s growing up, his fascination with technology and the protected atmosphere in which he lives in the International Settlement in Shanghai. He also gets glimpses of the brutality of the Japanese to the Chinese.

But when the real war comes, there is chaos. Jim is separated from his parents and lives in the deserted homes in the International Settlement till he is taken into custody and removed to the Lunghua internment camp where he is to spend the next four years. We follow his attempts at survival which he manages very well, despite the fact that the British in the camp are less than friendly. He makes friends with the Americans and even has an admiration for the Japanese guards. When the Japanese are facing defeat, the prisoners are taken out of the camp and marched off. Eventually, after various adventures, Jim is reunited with his parents and they return to England, where he becomes J G Ballard, the well-known writer.

Publishing history

First published 1984 by Victor Gollancz