Tuesday, June 02, 2009

09.17 Empire Of The Sun by J.G. Ballard

Empire Of The Sun (1984) by J.G. Ballard
Trade, Simon & Schuster, 288p.

I have always wanted to read this Ballard book mainly because it is, in many respects, a memoir of what he wet through as a child in Shanghai. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the British were all interned for the course of the war.

Ballard's book follows young James Graham, a boy obsessed with all things aerial and convinced of the superiority of his class. In the chaos of the Japanese occupation of the Shanghai International Settlement Jim becomes separated from his parents. This section of the book is really interesting. For Jim, it is just an adventure running around trying to find food and exploring the vacated houses.

Eventually Jim becomes interned in a large camp at Lungua where the story tracks the years of starvation, hopelessness and ultimately death for many of the inmates. The book is really a story of survival but also a a loss of innocence for a young boy. A boy who idolized war is reduced to gnawing on maggot filled potatoes and caring for crazed prisoners. Surely that is as long a way from piloting a heroic Japanese Zero as you can get.

Quite soon after the novel's publication Hollywood came calling and a film was made by Steven Spielberg. I have only watched the early parts of the movie but as I expected there is a lot of sanitization going on. Ballard writes in 2006: "I was deeply moved by the film but, like every novelist, couldn't help feeling that my memories had been hijacked by someone else's."

1 comment:

beemused said...

yes Spielberg's adaptation was that exactly. cool cover!