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J.G. Ballard – Empire of the Sun

Title: Empire of the Sun
Author: J.G. Ballard
Year: 1984

Empire of the Sun is a three part novel which draws inspiration and material from the author’s own experiences of Word War II. The story revolves around the young boy, Jim, and his tribulations in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. I emphasise that it is a novel in three parts, because I have widely differing opinions about the different sections.

The first part is perhaps the most interesting, as the reader follows Jim’s hardships, breaking into derelict buildings and stealing food to avoid starvation. His parents has disappeared and he seeks support from other adults, who do not always have the best of intentions. War-struck Shanghai is not a place for children, but Jim manages to survive until he is interned together with a lot of other westerners in a prison camp.

So fa, so good. I enjoyed the description of Shanghai and the main characters fight to survive, but stories about life in prison camps have simply stopped to interest me (not because they are bad, but because I have read so many). Certain writers can get away with it, because they use a different angle or are such good authors that it really does not matter that the theme has gone stale (Nobel Prize winners Imre Kertész and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are good examples of this). Sadly, J.G. Ballard is not among their numbers.

Admittedly, the book regains momentum in the third and last part, but it is not enough to pull it back up. I can recommend this book only to people who are, in particular, interested in Word War II Shanghai or what the war might have been like from the point of view of a young English boy. Since I do not count myself in this category, Empire of the Sun only gets two and a half snails.

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