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Thursday 24 August 2023

Empire of the Sun

EMPIRE OF THE SUN is a novel written by J G Ballard and published in 1984. It is semi-autobiographical and based on his own experiences as a young boy, born and brought up in the British community in Shanghai during the second world war. Jim, the protagonist of the story, is clearly based on the author’s own experience of living in the cossetted, wealthy atmosphere of an idyllic childhood replete with huge house, servants and busy, mostly absent parents. When the Japanese invade and occupy a large part of China, Jim’s life changes dramatically; the Empire of the Sun name has its origin in the etymology of the name ‘Japan’.

He wants to grow up to be a pilot and idolises the Japanese Army and Air Force. He lives for three years in an internment camp, separated from his parents, where he survives with the help of some American soldiers, especially Baisie. Jim realises that Baisie is basically a crook on the make but he doesn’t seem to mind. At the end of the war, he is reunited with his parents and travels reluctantly to England for the first time having grown physically and mentally during the ordeal. 
Three years after the publication of the book, Stephen Spielberg made a film of the story. Both the film and the book are marvellous at conveying Jim's story and his experiences. He is played by a thirteen year old Christian Bale and Baisie is played by John Malkovich. I thoroughly recommend both film and the book.

I'm listening to The Rolling Stones singing a very early song that I have always had a soft spot for. Listen to (and watch) You Better Move On live here.


Hels said...

Hi baz

I read Empire Of The Sun ages ago and thought it was very well written and very different from most of the novels I was reading in the 1980s and 90s. But I did not see the film because I almost always found books more authentic and films more derivative. Is it too late to see the Stephen Spielberg version now, do you think?

bazza said...

Hels: I watched the film recently after having read the book again and I thought it stood up well. Spielberg definitely captured something of the book. I have only juts found out that there is a sequel to the book which details what happens to Jim back in England. I think it's called The Kindness of Women.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I've not read the book, nor seen the film - and obviously have missed out ... I will note and at some stage perhaps read the book ... and see the film. You're right about The Kindness of Women - that sounds extremely good ...

Thanks for the review and shout out - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: I think most people of our generation would enjoy both! You can really experience the war through the eyes of an (initially) innocent boy.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, I live almost next door to the old American Ambassador's residence in Taipei (see, a beautiful house which probably resembled the opening part of that book, during the spacious, more-or-less peaceful days. The next time I am in the U.S., I'll scare up a copy of the book and/or movie to see how they compare.

bazza said...

Jim: I'm not sure how much of that will come across in the film but certainly some of it. I don't know but I imagine Taipei must retain some of that pre-war, ex-pat atmosphere.