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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,089 ratings  ·  152 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. ...more
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Fourth Estate (GB) (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  1,089 ratings  ·  152 reviews

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May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
MJ Nicholls
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This short, concise, brilliantly sharp commentary on Ballard's own life from childhood to the moments before his own death in his home is probably the most shocking and tear-jerking autobiographies I've ever read.

He doesn't embellish anything. He plainly tells us that his life as Jim in Empire of the Sun is true as far as it goes, made into a more fantastic story that is then later turned into the movie, but more than that, he briefly outlines the rest of his science-fiction career.

Not the what-
* 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
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
Jan 05, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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
Steve Duffy
Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
An eminently readable autobiography from a man who's fiction can sometimes be enigmatic, sometimes deliberately intended to shock, showing numerous repeated themes and tropes. Where did those themes come from? Since the publication of Empire of the Sun it has been clear that the strongest and most overt of them relate to his childhood experiences of Shanghai during WWII. This book demonstrates that most of the others date back to the same period of his life - and most of the remainder to no late ...more
Kimmo Sinivuori
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
James Murphy
Dec 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 03, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Shelves: do-not-own, audio
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". ...more
Matthew Cooper
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating autobiography by J.G. Ballard (author of Crash and High-Rise). From his early years in Shanghai, being interred during the war, through family life and tragedy, to his success as an author, this book is a great read from start to finish. Ballard's easy, affable manner comes through as he narrates his own story. There are some incredible events detailed here that hint towards the inspiration for his novels. ...more
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a delightful person.
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Felicity 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
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
Charles Dee Mitchell
Just as in his novels, Ballard here is brief. Writing with the knowledge that his prostate cancer is controlled but ultimately fatal, he sketches his Shanghai childhood, his (brief) university days, and most importantly his life as a single father raising three children in a London suburb. The Shanghai section is the strongest narrative, but the feeling he has for his family is deeply felt and beautifully conveyed. A major biography must be on its way, but in the meantime this is a good way to g ...more
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: books-i-own
This book was pretty boring. Though Ballard describes some insanely interesting parts of his life, he always seems to leave out just the bits you want to hear about. There were probably about six pages worth of interesting statements in the entire book. Perhaps mildly more interesting to his really obsessive fans, but not interesting of itself. Not his best writing. Ho hum.
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
J.G. Ballard has the capability of saying a lot with few and carefully chosen words. I'm a great fan of his books, I even called my dog after Jamie in Empire of the sun. ...more
Declan Clowry
Jun 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Much more interesting at the start than toward the end, where Ballard becomes just a little sentimental
David Corvine
Aug 22, 2016 rated it liked it
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
I want to read his whole catalogue now.
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ballard (apparently pronounced Buh-LARD, not BALE-rd) wrote this autobiography at the end of his life (1930-2009) when he knew he had terminal prostate cancer. It serves as a great companion piece to his autobiographical novel, "Empire of the Sun."

The best parts of the book mirror "Empire," recounting Ballard's childhood in Shanghai (where he was born), including his two-plus years in an internment camp during WWII. After the war, he moved to England and attended secondary school and then univer
James Perkins
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Having read a few examples of Ballard’s fiction, including his famous dystopias Crash, High-Rise, and a few others, I thought I’d check out his autobiography, which was recommended on a website highlighting quality non-fiction. I’m usually underwhelmed by other people’s assessment of the literature I read and prefer to make up my mind for myself. In this case, I’m happy to report that the site’s endorsement was accurate! Ballard had already written a fictionalised accound of his early life growi ...more
Elaine O'Hagan
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not usually a fan of autobiographies, I must say I’m glad I read this one. Coming late to Empire of the Sun and finding myself completely caught up in it, it just seemed inevitable to continue my quest for more insight and understanding of this extraordinary time and place.
The world of middle class expats, living well above their traditional reach in prewar Shanghai is laid out in all its lavish, unfeeling, unreal social milieu of servants, whisky soda, bridge parties, casual affairs, a life liv
Joe Fisher
Dec 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Short review: Sharp, moving and at times shattering. A fitting farewell from an epic author.

Long review: It's worth pointing out that J.G. Ballard is one of my favourite authors so please excuse the bias.

Miracles of Life tells the story of a boy born in pre-war Shanghai who moved to post-war Britain and lived through the decades when art began pushing boundaries. That goes someway towards explaining the story of Empire of the Sun and someway towards explaining Ballard's explosive and controversi
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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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