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Empire of the Sun

(Empire of the Sun #1)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  16,270 ratings  ·  853 reviews
The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg's film, tells of a young boy's struggle to survive World War II in China.

Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a deep 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
Paperback, Special Overseas Edition, 351 pages
Published January 1st 1985 by PANTHER Granada Publishing (first published 1984)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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 ·  16,270 ratings  ·  853 reviews

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Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Wars always invigorated Shanghai, quickened the pulse of its congested streets. Even the corpses in the gutters seemed livelier."

I “hated” this book. I thought to abandon it so many and to forget about its existence. Every page was a chore to read, thank god for the short chapters because sometimes I could not stomach more than one. Why, you might wonder I gave four stars to a novel that caused me so much pain? The thing with good books is that I do not have to enjoy reading them to appreciate
Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
A few days ago, I learned a new Japanese word. Nijuuhibakusha means literally "twice radiation-sick individual", and refers to the few people who, through staggering bad luck, managed to be present both at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and then at Nagasaki three days later. The article I read was an obituary for Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the last surviving nijuuhibakusha. I was not surprised to discover that Mr. Yamaguchi was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, and had spent a substantial part of his l ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
JG Ballard's Empire of the Sun is a compelling and engaging novel written from the perspective of a boy held prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. Really fantastic storytelling! Not sure I was prepared for the power of this book. It's both understated and profound in its insights. I ended up reading 4 JG Ballard novels this April. Empire of the Sun couldn't have been more different from these other novels: Atrocity Exhibition, High-Rise and Concrete Island. I'm not even sure I can reconcile Empi ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This outstanding novel seems to be so out of line with Ballard’s other notoriously magical/maniacal work—& this detail is fantastic. He is soon to become one of my all-time favorites—his prose is as crisp and perfect as Graham Greene’s. For a prophetic writer to go back to his roots, all the way back to Shanghai being wholly obliterated in the second World War—this guile is the type required to write your magnum opus. &, although I haven’t read all his work (though MOST I have), I can safely say ...more
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A gem of a memoir. Richer than Spielberg's film (though he did an excellent job with the material). Mesmerizing from start to finish.
I don't know whether it's a mistake to read all the other things this great SF author has read first and THEN read this brilliant WWII novel of a young kid lost in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation or whether it might be best to see all the wildness of his short stories, longer fictions, and utter fascination with flying and emotional deadening in the middle of tragedy FIRST.

Or whether everyone and anyone with even a slight interest in reading one of the very best novels of the war should
Megan Baxter
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Hmm, three or four stars? This was good, but I don't think I'll read it again. On the other hand, that particular feeling does not say that this was a mediocre book. But that personal gut reaction is what I tend to use for star ratings - four stars means I would like to or wouldn't mind reading it again. Five stars are books I feel the need to own.

So this is a three star review, but it is probably a better book than that.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes
K.D. Absolutely
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: war, 1001-core
I should have listened to my brother. He said last year that because Crash (1973 published) elicited strong, even if negative, reaction from me, then it meant J. G. Ballard (1930-2009) was a genius. That book was disgusting. I hated almost everything about the story. Up to now I cannot get over the characters that hurt themselves by crashing their cars and there is that part where the hole in the body is bleeding and to stop the blood from flowing, an erect penis has to be inserted. Holy cow. I ...more
I read Ballard's semi-autobiographical account of his interment as a child and teenager in a Japanese camp outside of Shanghai while I was still at school and before I had read any of his fiction.

As I later read a few of his novels I had a slow and growing sense of how his adult fiction drew upon that early experience described in this memoir in both the world-turned-upside-down story which resurfaces in several of Ballard's later novels and the oddly half affectionate tone of the child narrator
B Schrodinger
'Empire of the Sun' is by far the best war book I have read. Not that I am a big reader of war books at all. I tend to avoid the fiction books as I have found over the years that no matter the imagination of the author, war was entirely more gruesome, graphic and even funnier than anything that could eventuate from one human mind. I find most war fiction embarrassing and trite.

However, while 'Empire of the Sun' could be classed as a memoir, the author freely admits that his experiences are not e
Vicky "phenkos"
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book, first published in 1984, is about a young boy's life in the Lunghua camp, an internment base set up by the Japanese to accommodate American, British, and other European civilians during World War II. The book has been described as the best British novel about the Second World War, and I think with some justification. Jim, the main character of the book, is only eleven when he is caught up in the Japanese assault against the British navy in Shanghai, and, separated from his parents, tr ...more
The interesting thing about The Empire of the Sun is the time period Ballard writes about. I don't mean the period of the protagonist's incarceration. In fact, the book pretty much skips most of the four years that Jim spends in the POW camp. We are with Jim at the start of the war when he is 10 years old and he fights his way to get into the POW camp, and we are with him again at the end of the war when he is 14 years old and he fights his way from the chaos of a countryside filled with ragged ...more
Apr 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: contemporary
I remember one Saturday afternoon during the winter of 1987/1988 when my friend Chuck and I decided that instead of hitting the mall we would take in a movie. Our choices weren’t great… Rent-a-Cop, Return of the Living Dead Part II , Braddock, Missing in Action Part III. Yeah, so, we opted for Empire of the Sun. I had no real inkling to see it. I really didn’t care.

I remember that the movie had these big gaps of silence. Shots of Christian Bale running around an internment camp, flying a toy b
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china, 2017
Part of my Fall 2017 Best Of Chinese Literature project; more here, and a cool list of books here.

"The reality that you took for granted was just a stage set," is what JG Ballard has to tell you. He learned it as a child, when World War II came to his home in China. "Anyone who has experienced a war first hand knows that it completely overturns every conventional idea of what makes up day-to-day reality." This semi-autobiographical book is about that overturning.

Young Jim adapts immediately, an
Jean-Marc Bonet
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my second reading of 'Empire of the Sun' as the first time was many years ago, I only remember it being near perfection, and had everything I look for in a novel. Moving, beautiful written with many tense, nervy moments and a heartbreaking finale. Considering some of Ballard's other works were utopian, futuristic and darkly disturbing in nature, this is certainly his most humane story and represents a turbulent time in China's history that doesn't get much of a look in in regards to lit ...more
MJ Nicholls
May 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ballard is the quintessential soothsayer of contemporary alienation, perversity and despair. The narrator shows a clinician’s steeliness in the face of starvation and nuclear catastrophe, and this detachment is the genesis of Ballard’s “death of affect” that became a central theme across his novels—the scorched and bombed landscapes of his dystopic classics all stems from Shanghai. An uncompromising classic.
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Don't let the Spielberg connection turn you off. This is a devastating slow burn of a book, one that I picked up fairly randomly, and have been reeling from ever since. The prose is scrupulously plain, but the psychological detail as strange and transporting as anything more self-consciously lyrical. It chronicles the author's childhood experiences as a prisoner-of-war in WWII Japan, but this isn't a typical novel-memoir; there's a traumatized shimmer to the third-person narration (there's no "I ...more
Nandakishore Varma
I used to think of Ballard as an SF author - this novel made it clear to me how mistaken I was. This is the story of a British boy, Jim, separated from his parents at the age of 10 and interned in a POW camp in Shanghai during the Second World War. At the end of the war, after the nuclear attack on Japan, the world is a shambles: and Jim learns that staying alive is a task in itself. The story is cheerless and grim, but oddly compelling in its portrayal of humanity on the edge.
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, open-library
It’s about time I read this as J.G.Ballard is one of my favourite writers(I have seen the film though)! It is a fictionalised account of his experiences in Shanghai as a boy during WWII. it is a story of survival and resilience in harsh conditions and being exposed to many things that would be hard for most people to cope with.
It’s written in a stark and a matter of fact way but is difficult to put down. The character of Jim is intelligent, and somehow hopeful, he makes himself useful to survive
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: kids with nice manners
Recommended to Mariel by: John Malkovich
Everything I need to know in life I learned from Empire of the Sun.
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I honestly don’t know what’s the matter with me. Despite being a big Ballard fan, I'd never actually read this until now. The fuzzy reason I gave myself was that this was the mainstream book that Spielberg adapted, and so didn't chime in with the Ballard I generally deal with. However I’m glad I put my absurd prejudices aside, as this is brilliant!

Even though Ballard is dealing with the past rather than future, he does evoke this other world – which to Western eyes at least – is completely alien
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
I must have drifted out at crucial points because I found the geography very confusing. How far was the airfield from the camp? And the Olympic stadium? The Bund? That ceramic factory? The French Concession? How did the Japanese drivers get lost, when Jim can almost always see all these places? The map at the front of the book is crap and doesn't include many of the locations.

I thought that the action was confusing at times. I’d have an image of what was happening and suddenly someone would pop
Apr 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
People treat this as a memoir. It isn't and Ballard made it clear it was fiction. The glorification, almost fetishism of Japanese officers was very hurtful for my family who (like Peter Wyngarde the actor) were kids there without their parents. Ballard had his family. The fact he chose not to acknowledge that is... odd.
I loved this book. Ballard is a superb writer, and I felt as though I was living through the nightmare of Shanghai at the time. It is not a book for the faint-hearted as it is explicit and gory. But well worth the read to gain an insight into what the Chino-Japanese war was all about, phasing into WWII.
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
J. G. Ballard's novels often perplexes me. He has a stunningly powerful style of writing yet it often feels emotionally detached. Empire of The Sun is not only his best novel but goes a long way to explain the author's somewhat schizoid style of writing. The autobiographical novel is based on his internment as a child in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in China during World War II. Even though it is called a novel, I would not be surprised to find that very little is actually fictional. For Ball ...more
Jeff Jackson
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
A biographical novel that deals with Ballard's time in Japanese internment camps during WWII, told with an unusual slant: The narrator almost seems to thrive and looks up to his captors as the only ones who can protect him. On its own, a brutal and fascinating story -- but for fans, it's also the Ballardian Rosetta Stone, the ground zero source of his recurring fascination with drained swimming pools, empty runways, dead pilots, open air cinemas, etc. "Yet only part of his mind would leave Shagh ...more
I'm moving out of the town and had to return it to the library. At least I know the ending from the movie :D
Jun 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
would classify Empire of the Sun as an adventure novel about a boy’s life during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in WWII.

The book is graphic and spares no details about how people die, but it wasn’t graphic to the point where I had to put it down. Halfway through reading this, I realized that it was not fiction and was actually an autobiography, which made it a bit more difficult to read the particularly gruesome parts.

Empire of the Sun not only has an accurate portrayal of how a teenage boy
Meirav Rath
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of good fiction, historical fiction lovers
Oh, Steven Spielberg, how dare you kill this wonderful book's plot with a blunt instrument, burn it, trample it and then leave it to be raped by a horde of Cossacks, how?! Here's one book which was not for you to bring to the silver screen.
Unlike the film, this book managed to properly portray Jim's character, his experiences and to capture, complete and perfect, the lives of English citizens trapped behind Japanese lines in China. It's wonderfully written, the horrors laced gently with the exp
Ming Wei
What a good book this is, when I started to read it, I thought that it would not be as good as the movie, but I was wrong. I cannot think of one negative about this book, well written, characters that are well developed with emotion, very interesting storyline, a good flowing story that is easy to follow, (I intend not to put any spoilers in this review). Good editorial standards, book is a good length, easy to read, the way the author writes is clear, not complicated, easy to visual what you ar ...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

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“All around them were the bodies of dead Chinese soldiers. They lined the verges of the roads and floated in the canals, jammed together around the pillars of the bridges. In the trenches between the burial mounds hundreds of dead soldiers sat side by side with their heads against the torn earth, as if they had fallen asleep together in a deep dream of war.” 28 likes
“His mother and father were agnostics, and Jim respected devout Christians in the same way that he respected people who were members of the Graf Zeppelin Club or shopped at the Chinese department stores, for their mastery of an exotic foreign ritual. Besides, those who worked hardest for others, like Mrs. Philips and Mrs. Gilmour and Dr. Ransome, often held beliefs that turned out to be correct.” 28 likes
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