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Empire of the Sun (Empire of the Sun #1)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  13,258 Ratings  ·  653 Reviews
From the creators of the movie tie-in blockbusteries, The Color Purple, comes the most certain money-making event of this winter. Empire of the Sun is the story of a young boy in Shanghai who witnesses the outbreak of World War II and the bombing of Nagasaki.
Hardcover, 279 pages
Published December 1st 1997 by Buccaneer Books (first published 1984)
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Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Megan Baxter
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Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes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  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: 1001-core, war
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
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.
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This outstanding novel seems to be so out of line with Ballard’s other notoriously magical/maniacal work—and 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 safe ...more
Brendon 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
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
MJ Nicholls
May 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With a childhood like this, it's easy to see why Ballard became the ultimate novelist of alienation, perversity and despair. The matter-of-factness regarding death, starvation and nuclear bombs is often discombobulating – especially when Jim leaves long-term friends behind to die with no flicker of emotion – but provides a unique psychological insight into WWII that few wartime novels have ever achieved.

An uncompromising classic.
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.
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeff Jackson
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Meirav Rath
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Autobiographical account of a boy who becomes separated from his parents and interned in WWII Japanese-occupied China. The beginning shows Jim, already pretty hardened by his wartime environment, engaging with various images. This part is slow but the oddly totemic way Jim relates to the material world is idiosyncratic. Jim is a little boy fascinated by aircraft, and this fascination continuing throughout becomes a little stranger because it becomes more nakedly what it really is: being a bit of ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are insulated in the West.
The book resonated beyond being the key to unlocking the symbolism found in the rest of Ballard's works. In its own brutal way, it is the dawning of a sheltered european to the reality of the world. Thinking turned for idle fancy to centering on trade. How everyone needs something just like you, and how to obtain it with objects, skills, or favors. How everyone takes everyone else for granted. Not just the Americans using Jim, but in turn how Jim has no qualms exploiting those who take pity on h ...more
Jun 23, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Just arrived from Australia through BM.

A true masterpiece written by J.G. Ballard describing how the inhabitants of Shanghai, especially a young boy who was separated from his parents, have survived during World War II.


Steven Spielberg was perfectly able to translate this magnificent book Empire of the Sun (1987) to the cinema.


Stars: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson among others.

"I learned a new word today - 'atom bomb'"

If there had been no hostilities, the entirely disturbing boy, Jim, would have been dubbed with many mental diagnoses of the kind that are only spoken of under heavy initial letters; as events unfolded his a-social traits made him for the most, effective as a survivor.
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
کتاب خیلی خوبی خست . در حقیقت در نوع خودش شاهکاره ، اما ایکاش وقتی بچه تر بودم حونده بودمش . در کل اثر در مورد جنگ چین و ژاپن هست و باید معترف شم که ژاپنی ها به حد زیادی بعد از جنگ دوم جهانی آدمای متمدن و آرومی شدن . شاید اگر در اون جنگ شکست نمی حوردن امروز با سیطره ی جهانی ژاپن مواجه بودیم
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ..'end-of-empire' devotees
A tour de force of the other kind of hallucinatory writing. No infinitely-spiralling meanings within meanings, no apocalypse of the psyche, but--- a real life Inferno, the world spinning backwards as witnessed by the author in his childhood in Thirties Shanghai during the Japanese invasion.

"“Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Yangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adrift from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund. Jim had be
Mar 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-lit
War transforms everything it touches and no person who has lived through it can be unchanged from having survived. So it was surprising to read the detailed account of an upper-class English boy who undergoes very little discernible character development despite outlasting nearly four horrendous years as a World War II prisoner.

Young Jamie Ballard is the only child of wealthy British expatriates living in 1941 Shanghai whose exclusive country club world is the French Concession neighborhood – co
This was a very interesting book. Probably like most people, when I think of WWII, I think of a few historical "touchpoints": Nazi Germany, Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Hiroshima. The biggies.

This book isn't about any of them. Well, not directly. This book is personal and intimate and shows the gritty underbelly of a war that people like to romanticize. Heck, even the main character romanticized the war, and he was living it!

Quickie synopsis: Jim is happy and sheltered living in Shanghai with his p
Jamie Collins
Jul 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the movie based on this book, and I actually think I prefer the movie’s pacing and storytelling style.

However, the boy’s perspective as written here is striking, particularly his dispassionate evaluation of the adults who should be taking care of him, and his eerily practical adaptation to conditions that are killing people all around him. Also fascinating is his lack of focus on his own physical condition - it’s shocking when the doctor examines him and silently (helplessly) notes the bo
Read for college. I believe this is that kind of reading experience from which you learn a lot and won't easily forget.
Semi autobiographical, Empire of the Sun takes place during Word War Two in China. This story offers a real and vivid insight into what life in a prison camp, coltrolled by the Japanese soldiers, was like. It was not pretty, as you can bet, but it sure deserves our attention. We can also see the struggles between the Japanese and the American and Chinese people, which even gets
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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...

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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.” 6 likes
“Jim knew that he was awake and asleep at the same time, dreaming of the war and yet dreamed of by the war.” 6 likes
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