EMPIRE OF THE SUN by J.G.Ballard ( 1984) read in Dec. 2009

 

This is a semi- autobiographical book telling the story of Jim in Shanghai during W.W.1. Ballard was himself interred in a Japanese Camp during the war and this adds
poignancy and authenticity to the story.


The book is written from the boy’s point of view and is not judgemental of what occurs. Discussing this, the group thought it made the prose somewhat “matter of
fact” and devoid of emotion. However we felt this would be how a 12 year old would interpret what was going on in a camp in order to survive. Ballard never attempts any
adult interpretation in the book.


Jim comes from a privileged background but soon develops an eye for danger and self preservation. He meets Basie and Dr. Ransome in the camp who help him maintain
his identity although he never relys on them.
The book portrays the cruelty, starvation and death marches always from Jim’s perspective. It is not gory or violent but allows the reader to know what is happening
in reality.


At the end of the book Jim is somewhat bewildered . He has been three years in the camp and sees it as his only security. The war ends and he goes back to his life and family again.


Overall there was a mixed reaction to this book. In parts it was repetitive and it was easy to skip sections - it was not a book to “enjoy”. However it was cleverly written and gave a touching insight into this aspect of the war.