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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Guardian fiction prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

From the master of dystopia, comes his 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. Rooted as it is in the author’s own disturbing experience of war in our time, it is one of a handful of novels by which the 20th century will be not only remembered but judged.

J. G. Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai, where his father was a businessman. After internment in a civilian prison camp, he and his family returned to England in 1946. He published his first novel, The Drowned World, in 1961. His 1984 best seller, Empire of the Sun, won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was later filmed by Steven Spielberg. His memoir Miracles of Life was published in 2008. J. G. Ballard died in 2009.

©1984 J. G. Ballard (P)2014 Audible Studios

Critic Reviews

“An extraordinary achievement” (Angela Carter)
“A remarkable journey into the mind of a growing boy … horror and humanity are blended into a unique and unforgettable fiction” ( Sunday Times)
“Remarkable … form, content and style fuse with complete success … one of the great war novels of the 20th century” (William Boyd)
“Gripping and remarkable … I have never read a novel which gave me a stronger sense of the blind helplessness of war … unforgettable” ( Observer)
“A brilliant fusion of history, autobiography and imaginative speculation. An incredible literary achievement and almost intolerably moving” (Anthony Burgess)
“An immensely powerful novel – in a class of its own for sheer imaginative force.” ( Daily Telegraph)
“Gripping and remarkable … I have never read a novel which gave me a stronger sense of the blind helplessness of war … unforgettable.” ( Observer)
“Ranks with the greatest British writing on the Second World War.” ( The Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Quietly absorbing

Quite unlike anything I've read or listened to before. The characterisation is brilliant. Thematically powerful in an understated way. The tone of the narrator is ideally suited to the text.

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  • Catwat
  • 09-02-15

Fantastic performance.

A brilliant book that takes you on a ( sometimes harrowing) journey through China during ww2.
My own knowledge of the war was somewhat Eurocentric, this book has widened my perspective particularly in relation to Japanese Pow's and their experiences. When you hear people say, oh he never really 'came back' from the Japanese camps, ' he/ she was never the same after' this book gives us detailed insight into why this is so often the case.
Narration is absolutely spot on, it would have been spoiled by 'sentimental'reading which would have been an easy trap to fall into.
As it's written from a child's perspective it is matter of fact despite the traumatic experiences.
The sort of book ideal for long drives as you can drift in and out of the story and don't need to be constantly focussed!


7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-20-15

Stark and vivid.

This was not as I had expected - and not my usual choice. It is a stark and very vivid story of war time experience from a child's point of view. The narrator enhances the story to give the reader an insight into the cold and resigned emotions that develop within the child - without sensationalism or over dramatisation. Very moving and quite disturbing in parts. I would recommend this book for the quality and strength of the writing.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Roseann
  • 08-28-15

Outstanding

One of the best audiobooks I have purchased recently. Gave a very realistic description of what is must have been like in the Far East at the end of the Second World War.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • redfeend
  • 04-16-15

Heart rending

I was not sure what to expect from this book. I have read other Jg Ballard novels and enjoyed them, but this is different, being based on his own experience during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in WW2. The narration is excellent, bringing life and individuality to each of the characters and expressing both Jim's youthful naivety and the protracted suffering the internees endured. Towards the end of the book I was often in tears as Jim fought to survive and make sense of his world. The reader expertly conveys Jim's fragile mental state after years of depravation and seeing so many people die. The poignant ending sees Jim return to his childhood home in the city and then embark on a journey into an uncertain future, I thoroughly recommend this book.

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Sigrin
  • 05-04-17

Japanese prisoner of war through a child's eyes

I have not seen the film, but highly recommend the book/ audible.

WW2 books usually centre around Europe and we can often forget about VJ Day and what surrounded and lead to it.

The book is a grim, no messing tale of young Jim and his parents living in Shangai prior to the war breaking out. The outbreak of war and his subsequent internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. It focuses on his time there, the horrors of daily life and also the small things that kept them going. With VJ Day sees Jim returning to shanghai, reuniting with his parents.

The last three hours are very sad and graphic in Jims dwindling mental state but intrinsic to this great story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • S. Morris
  • 03-01-18

Beautifully Written

I must have been living under a rock or something as I have only recently
heard of this book although I now understand it's a classic. I picked up
this on sale on a two for one offer as I was not quite sure about it but
felt I ought to give it a listen as it was a story based during World War
II and told from the perspective of a child caught up at the start of the
war with Japan which is a subject of interest to me.

The sample piqued my curiosity and so read this book I did. The first thing
I noticed about this story was the writing style. It certainly felt like a
story written in a more classical type of prose that made frequent use of
metaphor. This rich style of writing was highly evocative and really painted
a vivid picture of the world in which we find young Jim thrown into. The
first part of the story that sees Jim losing his parents in the confusion of
war and following him on his journeys in search of them is brilliantly done.

The middle portion of the story sees Jim held in an interment camp and for
me the narrative waned a little here meandering somewhat although still
interesting. The final part of the story sees Jim on his travels again and
here once more Ballard paints a rich world for the reader to see in their
mind's eye.

One thing I would say is it is probably worth avoiding snacking while
listening to this as I was on several occasions put off my food with the
multiple references to all forms of human waste as well as lurid
descriptions of dead bodies.

The overall story is interesting but I did find it odd how a lone child was
so ignored and even treated badly by adults in the camps. I imagined that
this would not be realistic but then again, perhaps it was. Just seemed a
very harsh and uncaring environment with some adults only wanting to use the
child. Jim's naivety is shocking at times but it's probably a product of his
upbringing into a privileged world in addition to the time period. This
naivety protects Jim's mind from the horrors of war insulating him to the
extent that death in all its forms seems to hold little fear or revulsion for
him. On the flip side this naivety places his person in jeopardy at times
too.

I did come across one or two inconsistencies in the narrative though. One
example was when characters are referenced in the stadium and subsequently
Jim muses as to whether they died on the way to that stadium.

Steven Pacey does an excellent job of the narration and his classically
British sounding voice matches the tone and time period of this tale
perfectly.

Overall this book tells the brutal story of how the Japanese treated their
prisoners during the war and spares the reader little of the inhumane
conditions endured by the inmates. It also shines a light on the way people
behave under such circumstances.

Empire of The Sun is a powerful read that can be depressing, shocking, sad,
funny and brutal as well as seeming a little surreal at times given Jim's
innocence and how he sees the world.

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  • Vicuña
  • 11-01-17

Raw; far better than the film

I enjoyed the film and I’ve seen it a few times. For some reason, I never got round to reading the book. The narration throughout is excellent and adds a totally different dimension to the story. It’s far more brutal and the deprivations are harsh and well depicted. Jim’s strangeness comes across immediately. His odd attitudes and questioning mind are apparent. His insights into the occupation of Shanghai by the Japanese and how the expats were treated is often harrowing. Not always easy listening, but a remarkable story.

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  • ian
  • 06-16-17

Heavy going

This is probably the first book narayed by Stephen pacey I didn't enjoy.
His narrative was superb but content was so heavy that I struggled to get through the book.
Back to the first law for me where Pacey really shines!!

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  • MaDr8y
  • 08-14-16

Brilliant

One of my favourite books of all time beautifully read. Highly recommended to readers of all ages.

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  • Aaron
  • 04-07-16

A great way to take the journey.

A wonderfully delivered modern classic. What more can one say. It is the Second World War from a unique - human - perspective. The life of a child in death and suffering.

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  • Brendon
  • 05-17-15

War story unlike any other war story.

'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 exactly the same as young Jim, the protagonist of this tale. I guess most memoirs stretch the truth and make adjustments from reality to suit the format, J.G. has just admitted that he went a little further. Here Jim loses contact with his parents early in the novel during a siege on the city and we know that J.G. was interned with his parents in real life. Maybe there is more fiction than non-fiction here and I may need to eat my words.

There is so much to love in here, but I think this book may not be for everyone. Firstly, this book is pretty graphic in it's description of Jim's surroundings. There are realistic descriptions of corpses, death and disease throughout. But it's never gratuitous and it's always frank. It's not a novel with an uplifting tale of adversity. Yes, you could make a great guess that Jim survives the ordeal, but does he or anyone overcome adversity? Not at all. This is definitely not a rallying book. You do not cheer on the good guys. And despite what Hollywood would make you think, you do not cheer on the end of the war.

And I think that is one of the big messages of the book. War does not start on a declaration and it does not end with a surrender.You do not flip the war coin to find peace written in shiny silver letters. It seems to be that the happiest years of young Jim's life were when he was eating one sweet potato a day, slowly wasting away, getting every disease that came his way all the while running around an internement camp idolising the Japanese pilots and ingratiating himself to the Japanese officer in charge of the camp. Throughout the book Jim wants the Japanese to win the war and does not see how they can lose it because they have the bravest soldiers in his opinion.

J.G. really does capture the naive innocence yet canny and literal understanding that children have. Adult speech is littered with sarcasm, exaggeration and metaphors that children take literally. Only their observations of the world around them hold true. Jim knows when someone is about to die in the camp hospital as they were given the one and only mosquito net. And yet he could not understand when the war had ended nor could he understand why the next war hadn't started when everyone in the camp was saying "The next World War will start soon" in reference to the communist rising.

The fact that Jim adapts to his life much more than any adult is unsurprising.

So, for me, this is a damn magnificent read. I valued the look at war from a child's perspective. I also learnt that the end of war can be worse than war itself and the story is far from over when the diplomats shake hands and documents are signed.