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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 listeners say about Empire of the Sun

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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!


13 people found this helpful

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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.

8 people found this helpful

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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.

15 people found this helpful

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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!!

3 people found this helpful

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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.

17 people found this helpful

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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.

2 people found this helpful

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Bloody but brilliant.

A coming of age story like no other - one of endurance and grisly adventure but also of innocence.

1 person found this helpful

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a fascinating and heart wrenching account of war

written from the perspective of a small child, this book gives a heart wrenching account of the riggers of war without the usual glorification which is refreshing. The morbidity of the suffering described is pretty gritty at times and really portrays the unacceptable cost of war to civilization, countries, families and individuals.

I am not one for war stories, yet felt compelled to listen to this after thoroughly enjoying Ballard's short stories. Although long, this book does not disappoint and Ballard's abilities as a writer shine through. My only complaint would be that the end of the book felt rushed and under written.

The narrator did an excellent job, maintaining the characters voices throughout. overall I would recommend this book, especially if you like Ballard's writing or have interests in war time novels.

1 person found this helpful

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amazing insight into a young boys life in war

Wonderful book and also harrowing to listen to. The detail of the prisoners lives and how they survived is miraculous

1 person found this helpful

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An overrated novel

I expected a classic written by a master craftsman but instead I found myself listening to the work of a mediocre journeyman. The key problem with the novel is that the central character, Jim, is a kludge of two contradictory characters. One is a high-IQ fourteen-year-old who can (correctly) calculate the speed of Superfortress bombers on their bombing run by using his own heartbeat as a timer; the other is a dull, impressionable child who constantly asks adults silly questions and who believes that the excessive shine on his shoes may have caused American fighter-bombers to attack a nearby Japanese airfield. I could give many more examples of this contradiction.

The moral viewpoint that underpins the novel is questionable. Ballard treats us to several explicit descriptions of European prisoners pooping and urinating in conditions of abject squalor. Perhaps this focus upon squalor is meant to emphasise the justified demise of nasty European imperialists. If that is the case then this message is totally undermined by the brutality with which the Japanese treat their fellow East-Asians, the Chinese. In one of these incidents four Japanese soldiers amuse themselves by beating a Chinese peasant to death. Maybe Ballard planned a sequel in which the justified demise of the Japanese was to be emphasised by graphic descriptions of them pooping.

Ballard’s prose occasionally lapses into incoherence. For example, towards the close of the novel Jim, referring to Mrs Vincent, says “Mrs Vincent would build a strange runway.” I’m still trying to understand how that sentence got past the editor.

One bright spot: Steven Pacy’s narration is excellent.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Penelope
  • 21-07-15

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.