Title: Empires of the Sun
Author: J. G. Ballard
Page Count/Review Word Count: 384
I’ve been quickly becoming a J. G. Ballard fan, and as well as being one of his most well-known books, Empires of the Sun is also arguably his most important. I know a lot of people who hate reading about the First and Second World Wars, but I’ve always found them fascinating and I also think that it’s important for us to pick them up so that we can think about what they mean for us.
This one is particularly interesting because it’s not your typical World War II book. Instead, it focuses on a small boy and his family in Shanghai, which gets occupied by the Japanese after Pearl Harbour. It’s a part of the world that isn’t covered as much, at least in the wartime fiction that I’ve read, and it’s also based at least in part on Ballard’s own childhood experiences.
He writes with conviction here, and it reads more like an accurate historical account than a piece of fiction and probably actually sits somewhere between the two of them. There was one scene that stood out to me in particular where a throwaway reference is made to the boy’s father holding a glove that turns out to be just the skin of some sailor’s hand that got burnt off during the attack.
It’s also interesting that it’s written from the boy’s perspective, because that helps to add a sense of innocence that contrasts with the brutality of war. I think that was a masterstroke on Ballard’s behalf, even though I did occasionally find it annoying. What can I say? I’ve just never enjoyed reading books that are told in the voice of a child, in part because I think it’s so difficult to get it right.
But all in all, I was pretty happy with this read and I was impressed with what Ballard was able to achieve with it. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, and even though there were a few parts of it that seemed to drag for me, as a whole it was an impressive novel and one that I’m glad I picked up. I’m looking forward to getting reading more Ballard.
Learn more about Empires of the Sun.