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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  854 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
Never before published in America, this revelatory autobiography—hailed as “fascinating [and] amazingly lucid” (Guardian)—charts the remarkable story of James Graham Ballard, a man described by Martin Amis as “the most original English writer of the last century.” Beginning with his Shanghai childhood, Miracles of Life guides us from the deprivations of Lunghua Camp during ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published February 4th 2013 by Liveright (first published January 1st 2008)
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MJ Nicholls
An amiable and moving autobio—light on insight into his enormous corpus, lyrical on his formative experiences and family. B.S. Johnson receives an unfortunate bashing: “Moving on the fringes of literary London for four decades, I have been constantly struck by how few of our literary writers are aware that their poor sales might be the result of their modest concern for their readers. B.S. Johnson, a thoroughly unpleasant figure who treated his sweet wife abominably, was forever telephoning and ...more
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.


Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and grew up in
* 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
Dec 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-and-biog
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
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
Steve Duffy
Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
Kimmo Sinivuori
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are three categories of autobiographies – very bad, bad and good. Very bad count for about 90 percent and the good for about 5 percent of all autobiographies. J.G. Ballard’s Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton” belongs to the latter category.

Ballard wrote this memoir on borrowed time and it was him being diagnosed with terminal cancer that prompted him to put his past on paper. This maybe well be the reason why the book is heavily concentrated on his parents and the Ballard family’s t
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Yasemin Şahin
Sep 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: otobiyografi
Kitap Ballard'ın 2007 yılında yazmaya karar verdiği otobiyografisi. Biyografi okumaktansa imkanı varsa otobiyografi okumayı tercih ediyorum. Ballard' ın gerçeküstücülük ile tanışma yıllarına dek okumaktan çok keyif alamadım. Ama otomatizm ve psikanaliz etkileriyle tanıştığı yıllardan sonrasını yazmaya başladığında okumak çok keyifliydi. Eşini kaybettikten sonra iki kızıyla yaşayan Ballard, aile kavramını kafasında toplumsal tabulardan sıyrılarak oturtmuş olduğu görülüyor. Bilim kurgu yazımında g ...more
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
Oct 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, do-not-own
A straight forward chronology of the life of an author. I found this almost like reading a Wikipedia article, yet it made me want to read much of his work. I had no idea he was the subject of "Empire of the Sun", though I knew he wrote "Crash".
James Murphy
Dec 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tracy Terry
Whilst not a big fan of memoirs/autobiographies in general I did enjoy Empire Of The Sun and so had a passing interest in this author.

The child of British parents living in Shanghai, JG (James 'Jim') Ballard spent his formative years incarcerated in a Japanese prisoner of war camp which having read this obviously informed much of his 1984 novel.

Essentially chronicling his experiences between 1930 and 2007. Whilst for myself, having read Empire Of The Sun, there was very little new to learn of hi
William Koon
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Declan Clowry
Much more interesting at the start than toward the end, where Ballard becomes just a little sentimental
David Corvine
I found the material centered on his early life in Shanghai the most interesting. That dealing with his domestic life much less so.
Kathe James
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I want to read his whole catalogue now.
The first half of this is about J.G. Ballard's childhood in Shanghai, before and after the occupation of China by the Japanese in the second world war. Much of it will be familiar to readers of Empire of the Sun, although there are some big differences - e.g. Ballard was interned with his parents and sister, while the boy in the novel was alone.

The second half is a mixture of later life events and fairly light comments about his writing. I don't think one can expect writers to provide in-depth
Debs Carey
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully observed memoir of growing up in extraordinary circumstances, yet expressing it in such a way that it was clearly the only normal he knew. This rang so true, as something that is shared by all of us who had a childhood in the troubled world of "overseas", even if I not during a World War.

If you want to understand how he came to write "Empire of the Sun", this answers your questions.

A really good read.
Umberto Rossi
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Darren Goossens
Oct 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ballard fans
Review from

It's hard to believe this is the whole story, or even much of it. Ballard generally played his cards close to his chest, and this is no different. It's interesting. It's written in his customary pithy, precise prose and the pages zoom by.

The cover of <i>Miracles of Life<.i> by J. G. Ballard.
The cover of Miracles of Life by J. G. Ballard.

A few quotes:

"My mother never showed the slightest interest in my career until Empire of the Sun, which
Geoff Wooldridge
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ballard is perhaps best known for his novel Empire of the Sun, made into a successful film by Steven Spielberg. That novel is largely autobiographical, relating events of Ballard's early life in Shanghai, where he was born, and where his family were interned by the Japanese during WWII.

So the early part of this autobiography feels familiar, albeit related in a different form.

Miracles of Life is lively and engaging, easy to read and very absorbing. I found it hard to put down and I read it very q
Izzy Dee
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not so much a fan of autobiographies, but this one proved to be an exception. JG Ballard, although one of the world's finest and most celebrated science fiction authors, has always captured me with his magnum opus Empire of the Sun where he wrote about his experiences when Shanghai was captured by the Japanese forces during the 2nd World War. Born to affluent British expats who settled in Shanghai during the 1930s, Ballard's childhood consists of living in one of the houses in 31 Amherst Avenue ...more
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
Oct 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to be honest, I knew very little about JG Ballard. I had read "Empire of the Sun" and found Jim to be a most unsympathetic character.
Some months ago, I came across a magazine article that was written by his daughter, Bea. In it, she mentioned that her father brought all three children up single-handed after her mother died, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, in Portugal. I was intrigued, and so as soon as I found this autobiography "Miracles of life", I bought it. and read it, and really e
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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
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