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J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun

1984

J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun

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  • Intro

    Empire of the Sun is J. G. Ballard’s most acclaimed novel and was, according to the author, the emotional centre of his work. The novel tells the story of Jim, a young boy living in Shanghai in the 1930s and ‘40s. Jim’s life, and that of the rest of the international expatriate community which he is part of, is changed forever by the arrival of the Japanese army in 1943.

     

    The book explores the horrors of war and occupation, and is told from Jim’s viewpoint. The narrative follows the boy as he struggles to survive without his parents in Shanghai and, later, in the Lunghua Camp, where prisoners of war were interned until the end of the war. Just like Jim, Ballard spent his childhood exploring the city on his bicycle and, during the occupation, he and his family spent more than two years in the Lunghua Camp. Ballard also used Amherst Avenue where he lived with his family as the location for Jim’s family home. Jim’s account of life in the Lunghua Camp is particularly evocative with its description of both the suffering and resilience that he witnessed, as well his own fascination with the Japanese invaders. Ballard’s archive also includes plans of and documents about the Lunghua Camp, which were sent to Ballard in the 1990s.

     

    The manuscript of Empire of the Sun runs to 840 numbered pages and contains extensive re-workings and alternative versions of individual paragraphs and sections. This image shows the first page of the first draft of chapter one of the novel, with slight annotations and corrections to the text.

     

     Image credit: Estate of J.G. Ballard.

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