Empire of the Sun
Empire of the sun is a rites of passage novel about James Ballard’s life in Shanghai during the Japanese invasion in the 1940’s. It describes James’ life from how he changes from a posh and upper-class expatriate to becoming a lonely Shanghai roamer, and his time at Lunghua camp at which his views of the four main nations in the book (England, Japan, China and America) change completely.
Ballard presents the English at the beginning of the novel as a superpower, posh and rich. We know this because Yang their chauffer drives a green Packard, which is a expensive and flash car and they have lots of servants who, in James’ (Jamie to his family and close friends) imagination are just pieces of furniture, and gardeners who mind their own business passively “stabbing at the grass”. Despite the English being in their ivory tower and thinking themselves of a higher class than the helpless Chinese, they still are concerned about the Japanese moving closer and closer to Shanghai. Before Dr Lockwood’s party Jamie’s “father knelt by the radiogram in his pirate costume” listening to the regular war update. While Shanghai is on the brink of being overrun and captured by the Japanese the English still manage to fit in a few glasses of “whiskey and soda” and a fancy dress party, but even at the party the main focus for most people is listening to the war update on Dr Lockwoods “short-wave radio”. Eventually the Japanese take control of Shanghai and Jamie is separated from his parents. In the heart of Shanghai, all alone, Jamie meets two American sailors, Frank and Basie. They rename him Jim, “A new name for a new life”. Jim needs food and is willing to do anything in order to stay alive. The only way he can stay alive is to stick around with Frank and Basie. As the story goes on Jim has less and less respect for the English because they do not seem to prioritise the right things for instance they would “prefer to suffer from chronic dysentery rather than...
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