Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Book #50 Empire Of The Sun by JG Ballard

Empire Of The Sun

Empire Of The Sun is the story of a little British boy named Jamie who is forced to grow up and become Jim, when he is interred in a prison camp in China by the Japanese during World War Two.
In the camp he runs wild, whilst those around him try and help him as best they can.

The prose is excellent and the imagery evocative of pre-War China and a certain social class at a certain time, and it engaged me from the beginning, but there were other ways in which I was left puzzled by it. 

I was surprised when at the back an interview with J. G Ballard revealed that he was not in fact separated from his parents but interred alongside them and that he chose to write this semi-autobiographical novel as if he was not with them because he felt completely estranged from them from their internment onwards. They could no longer take care of him, and were in a position were they held no authority, and so his entire relationship with them crumbled.

Heartbreaking as this is; this then made some sense of what is by far the silliest and most implausible section of the book, when separated from his parents, Jim meanders around Shanghai alone, riding his bike around and living in other people's houses before hooking up with two American seamen. To hear that this part was a fictional element came as no surprise.

The books strength lies in his journey to the camp, and his experiences there and at various stops along the way which, stark and bleak, feel like truth.

The other interesting element here is Jim's apparent disconnect from events, as atrocity unfolds around him Jim seems to become anaesthetised having adjusted to this war and this life that he leads now, were stealing from the starving and from the dead is not just necessary but normal.

In some ways this makes him an unsympathetic character and in others this emphasises the true price of war.

As a whole it was a thought provoking novel, I read it as it was the favourite of an old friend, but I somehow didn't become completely absorbed in it or become wowed by it, in the same way for example that I was wowed by fellow war memoir The Things They Carried.

It is however, a book destined to be, as the series it comes from suggests, a perennial classic. 


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