Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography
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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  576 ratings  ·  82 reviews
'Miracles of Life' opens and closes in Shanghai, the city where J.G. Ballard was born, and where he spent most of the Second World War interned with his family in a Japanese concentration camp.
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Fourth Estate (GB) (first published January 1st 2008)
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Cecily
This is JG Ballard's autobiography, including a significant chunk that tells the true story on which "Empire of the Sun" is based.

The Chinese aspect was the main draw for me, but in fact his contact, experience and knowledge of Chinese people, food and culture was negligible. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and found some of his descriptions of pre-war Shanghai remarkably resonant with my experiences there in 1992 and 2008.

EARLY YEARS IN CHINA

Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and grew up in...more
Velvetink
* added a bit more to my review;

Ballard was born the same year as my father and they couldn't be more different. My previous impressions of what Ballard was like have flown out the window with this memoir - I think I used to stick him in some kind of pop art/warhol category after reading Crash, and I couldn't have been more wrong...although on an artistic level Ballard's writing - particularly Crash and The Actrocity Exhibition go into groundbreaking realms of simulacra as Baudrillard likes to...more
Caroline
This is the autobiography of JG Ballard – the man famous for writing the novel Empire of the Sun. For me the book split clearly into two parts, firstly his fascinating experiences in China and post war Britain, and secondly his life as an author and father in Britain in the 60s and beyond.

Unsurprisingly, he writes with genius about his childhood in Shanghai. Under his pen Shanghai in the 30s and 40s comes alive – as a vast, decadent colonial playground on the one hand, and a place of deep povert...more
Jeff Jackson
Worthwhile for Ballard fans who should ignore the rating. This memoir is most notable for the vivid first half which details Ballard's surreal childhood in Shanghai and his imprisonment during WWII. It differs markedly in places from "Empire of the Sun" and makes a fascinating companion narrative. The second half offers selective glimpses of the next 50 years of his life in England, including the dreary post-war years which he describes as more traumatic than his time in the Chinese prison camp....more
Tosh
The first part of this memoir is very charming. Ballard was raised in Shanghai during the 2nd World War, and it's fascinating how he lived an extremely wealthy life among the poor Chinese. Then the Japanese invaded China - and life turned on him in a brash manner. Yet he has no regrets about his past - in fact it seems he enjoyed particular aspects of Japanese rule as a child. Ballard has the ability to see the lightness that is totally dark and back again. He carries that with him regarding his...more
Jim Coughenour
Ballard's memoir, only recently published in the US, appeared in Britain in 2008 and (as of tonight) has 369 ratings and 44 reviews – so mine is only flotsam on the flood. Just as well. My response to this book divided in the middle. Part I is set in Shanghai and provides a stark, surrealistic account of the story behind Empire of the Sun. Its matter-of-fact air only makes it more impressive. In Part II Ballard is back in England, recounting his family life, success as a writer and critical indi...more
Steve Duffy
They say - and they may be right - that you should never meet your heroes. Be that as it may, I'm glad that my friend and I doorstepped J.G. Ballard at his Shepperton home back in the mid-1980s for an enjoyable and slightly surreal few minutes' chat. I'm even gladder that I didn't say anything too unforgivably gauche such as "Your books changed my life" (I didn't even bring any copies along for him to sign); if I managed to get across to him through my tongue-tiedness that they changed my percep...more
S.
J.G. Ballard's death autobiography makes an excellent read, illustrating a craft refined over decades of life, and perhaps arguing that Ballard was for much of his life in the wrong genre. the success of Empire of the Sun demonstrates that his two years in Japanese internment, as well as the Shanghai experience in general, was Ballard's most fruitful source of experience, and although arguments have been made that some of his prose includes, in somewhat veiled form, the idea of empires collapsin...more
Cheryl
This is an autobiography from one of Britain's cherished novelists. I'm probably one of few who read this before reading "Empire of the Sun" and "The Kindness of Women"--the two autobiographical novels that J.G. Ballard wrote before being diagnosed with prostate cancer and writing this autobiography.

His parents were English, but Ballard was born and raised in the international settlement of Shanghai. During the Pacific war, Ballard and his family were interned in a camp. He tells about this exp...more
James Murphy
J. G. Ballard's story is familiar to us all, how as a boy in Shanghai before and during the war he was interned with his parents and other British and European nationals. I've always admired imagination in writing. What Ballard did with those experiences and how he represented it in Empire of the Sun, to my mind, demonstrated a high level of imagination. It, and the later novel The Kindness of Women, in which he brilliantly covers the same material in the opening 3 chapters, draw heavily on thos...more
Miles
The act of telling a story well can be at least as interesting as any well-told story. In autobiography there is the story, but there is also the performance - you can't change the facts (very much) but you do have to decide how you will perform your life for your audience. Ballard makes a good show of it.

I have never seen Empire of the Sun or Crash nor read any of J. G. Ballard's books. I had no prior interest in or awareness of his existence, outside of being aware of Empire of the Sun and ass...more
William Koon
A marvelous work tracing much of Ballard's remarkable journey as a writer and a human being. Of course, the first part when he is a Japanese POW near Shanghai is the most important part of the work. He writes through a child's eyes and does it wonderfully. You feel as the child, not as someone looking down on a a child or looking back as an adult.

Equally fine is his description of post WWII England as a bleak and dreary landscape of people and ideas. I know know of no better portrait of a "defe...more
Bap
Ballard wrote this autobiography when he was dying from cancer. Ballard grew up in Shanghai in the 30's as part of the privileged ex pat community. His father ran a printing plant. They lived in a house on the outskirts of the city and the international zone. It was a life of privilege with ten servants.little did they know that this fantastic existence was soon to be obliterated by the Japanese who would expose the lie of white supremacy and sweep away the western imperialists hold over China....more
Mark Love
There are many people whose names are mentioned in all the right places, and for whom I have uttmost respect, and yet I am ashamedly ignorant of. Nick Cave, Thomas Pynchon and Francis Bacon fall into this category, and so does J G Ballard.

The only previous book of Ballard’s that I have read is The Atrocity Exhibition (prompted by Joy Division’s song of the same name) which was an anarchic and unstructured glimpse into a mind that was darkly subversive yet held fiercely traditional values. Miracl...more
Richard MacManus
JG Ballard is one of my favorite fiction writers. I read Crash and several of his other highly imaginative works when I was younger. Crash is my favorite, a controversial concept novel about sexual fantasies mixed with car crashes. Ballard explains the genesis of that book in one brief chapter. But the bulk of Miracles of Life is his description of growing up in Shanghai, including 2.5 years in an internment camp with other British expatriates in the early 1940s, when Japan had invaded China. He...more
Glenys
I read Ballard's science-fiction in my science-fiction-reading days (otherwise known as 'my youth') but have not yet read 'Empire of the Sun', which I understand is his biographically-inspired masterpiece. However, this short autobiography is superb. It is the most understated, low key yet gripping account of a really extraordinary life of lost innocence, spanning sharply contrasting eras and experiences. These include a childhood with emotionally unavailable parents, sybaritic ex-patriate life...more
Umberto Rossi
È stata una lunga marcia, quella di James G. Ballard, che fino al 1984 godeva di fama e attenzione solo tra gli appassionati della fantascienza, ma che da allora in poi si è guadagnato un posto di tutto rispetto nel panorama letterario britannico. Ormai è un nome rispettato e le sue opere sono oggetto di corsi universitari, convegni accademici e saggi critici pubblicati da editori rispettabilissimi. E dire che nei primi anni Novanta il film tratto da Crash (diretto da Cronenberg) venne boicottat...more
Daniel
J.G. Ballard reminisces about his life and family, with particular attention to his childhood in Shanghai and in a Japanese internment camp, experiences that seem to have formed the basis for so much of his writing (obviously Empire of the Sun, but others as well). I occasionally found myself questioning some of his speculations about the inner lives and motivations of various people, including his parents and he maddeningly hints at/glosses over certain things (e.g. his single experience with L...more
Roy White
A memoir written during the author's final illness, Miracles lacks some of the poetic flair of Kindness of Women (a novelized version of many of the same events), but but also lacks some of the wallowing in pointless violence and unpleasant sex. JGB has many good stories to tell, and is an appealing figure...it would be fun to hear the same stories told from someone else's perspective.
https://lippenheimer.wordpress.com/20...
David
From his childhood in a prisoner camp in Shangai during WWII to his going back to it after a 40 years hiatus (a lovely chapter and description of how memory works), the book is a depiction of how these events influenced his major life decisions and his most famous works.
The book is divided in many chapters, each one an important year of his life telling a.o. the relation with his parents and fellow prisoners while being in the camp, the post-war England in a bourgeois family (and how to get away...more
Pascale
At first I was a bit worried that Ballard was going to cover mostly the same ground as in "Empire of the Sun", but although accounts of his time in Shanghai during his childhood, then briefly in 1991, bracket the book, it gives a delightful chronicle of his entire life. And a happy, uneventful life it was, for the most part, which comes as a surprise when you think of the relentlessly dystopian universe depicted in his fiction. The book is so charmingly written that I finished it at one seating,...more
Maarten
Very entertaining read, a book that touches on a very wide range of subjects, like growing up in a war and the workings of the modern literary and art world. It is really well written, surprisingly easy if you consider Ballard's avant-garde status. His life has been an impressive one but he writes about it almost with understatement, with sudden parts of poetic prose. Most impressive were his descriptions of pre-war Shanghai and his experiences of growing up there, and later in life his search f...more
F.R.
Normally I prefer biographies to autobiographies, believing - to quote Bart Simpson describing Krusty's tome - they are largely "self serving with many glaring omissions". However I would thorougly recommend Ballard's memoir.

A series of essays rather than a laborious trek through his life, Ballard describes the crucial incidents that made him as a man and him as a writer. Even though he is dealing with the more mmundane, his genius for seeing the ordinary in a truly unique way means that no chap...more
Nicholas Whyte
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2117885.html[return][return]This is a brilliant book - passionate, opinionated, reflective, sometimes angry and occasionally self-critical; fascinating on the details of life in Shanghai before and during WW2 (a fifth of his life, which takes up almost half of the book).[return][return]Empire of the Sun comes back towards the end, with an account of how Spielberg made the film of Ballard's book about his wartime experiences, but apart from that there is a lot of int...more
Gene Bales
Ballard died not long after writing this autobiography. I have enjoyed his novels and short stories for years. They were often strange and occasionally rather bleak and dark. I did not know what to expect to find when I read this autobiography. But his account of his own life shows a man who endured very unusual circumstances growing up (Empire of the Sun is representative of that), but who became a fairly ordinary family man later in life. I should not say "ordinary"--"devoted" is closer to rea...more
Joey
A forthright, unsentimental account of the life of one of the great visionary science fiction writers of our time. The first half of the book is the best, taken up with Ballard's unconventional childhood in wartime Shanghai (including a surprising and moving account of several years in a prisoner-of-war camp). The second half is a series of snippets of his adult life, dealing primarily with his roles as writer and father. The latter half of the book was not as strong as the first; it could have...more
Lane Ashfeldt
Given the significant and influential his writing has been, JG Ballard notched up surprisingly few major literary awards. It was as if the literary luvvies faced resolutely the other way, on genre grounds. His only Booker shortlisted novel was (for him) atypically realistic: 1984’s 'Empire of the Sun', which was based on his childhood in 1930s and 1940s Shanghai.

The first half of this memoir again dips into that fascinating material, while later chapters whiz through Ballard’s personal and writi...more
Barry
Pre-ordered an absurdly nice signed first edition years ago and I've been too proud to open it, or to read a paperback copy. Found a 'first edition' hardback at Oxfam and finally read it. I regret nothing.
Igna
I just love autobiographies and biographies. This one was was not exciting but it gave me an insight into another place at another time and again I learned a few things I did not know before.
Paul
Beautifully written and more overtly heart-felt than his fiction (which I adore) which usually maintains a studiously detached note. It covers his early life in Shanghai through to his detention by the Japanese from '43 to '45 (and the basis for 'Empire Of The Sun') through his marriage, the early death of his wife, and caring for three children as a single father (written with so much affection) and author to the brief final chapter discussing the cancer that would soon kill him.

I loved his por...more
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James Graham "J. G." Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Ballard came to be associated with the New Wave of science fiction early in his career with apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels such as The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ballard focused on a...more
More about J.G. Ballard...
Crash Empire of the Sun High-Rise The Drowned World The Atrocity Exhibition

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