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Past Group Book Discussions > Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

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Simon (Highwayman) (highwayman) | 4698 comments

The heartrending story of a British boy’s four year ordeal in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War.

Based on J. G. Ballard’s own childhood, this is the extraordinary account of a boy’s life in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai – a mesmerising, hypnotically compelling novel of war, of starvation and survival, of internment camps and death marches. It blends searing honesty with an almost hallucinatory vision of a world thrown utterly out of joint.

Hopefully Jazzy, who recommended this book will come along start off a discussion.

message 2: by B J (new)

B J Burton (bjburton) | 2914 comments One of my favourite books - just wonderful. His sequels dealing with his life as an adult made him sound a very peculiar man with some very peculiar friends, but this one is brilliant.

message 3: by David (new)

David Hadley | 4873 comments Yes. A very good book.

message 4: by R.M.F. (new)

R.M.F. Brown | 4128 comments David wrote: "Yes. A very good book."

And a very good film is well.

I'll try and get the ball rolling on this discussion with this point:

Jim has been brought up as British film and through, and yet, he's never set foot in Britain. Does this contribute to the sense of alienation he feels in the camp, or does a sense of British identity help get him through the tough times?

message 5: by B J (last edited Nov 02, 2014 10:41AM) (new)

B J Burton (bjburton) | 2914 comments Separated from his parents in the panic that preceded the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, 11-year-old Jim is taken to an internment camp where he spends four years: four of his formative years. I didn't really get a feeling of alienation; more a case of a baffled young boy trying to make sense of the world around him - British prisoners trying to be uncooperative while 'maintaining standards', brash wheeler-dealer Americans and the down-trodden Chinese who were being worked to death building an adjacent runway.
As the prisoners' clothing becomes more ragged and they suffer the effects of inadequate food and medical care, the young boy is drawn towards figures of authority and power - first the Japanese soldiers and then the smartly-dressed pilots.
I think he gets through simply because he's young and adaptable. But he doesn't get through unharmed. Ballard's books about his adult life show that his wartime experiences left deep scars that affected him all his life.

message 6: by R.M.F. (new)

R.M.F. Brown | 4128 comments It's quite a dynamic shift when he goes from admiring the Japanese to admiring the Americans later on.

Agree with you about the British. I admire their dignity and sense of duty, but it hard for many of them to come to terms with the new world order, and the decline of Empire.

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