Jim, the eleven-year-old son of an English cotton-mill owner in Shanghai, accustomed to the privileges of colonial life, finds his comfortable existence shattered by Japan’s declaration of war on the Allied forces in December, 1941. After wandering through war-torn Shanghai for several months as one of the few Europeans overlooked by the Japanese, Jim is held for three years in a prison camp. There he learns the art of survival, while thousands die around him. Empire of the Sun in many ways resembles a boys’ adventure story but is actually much more. It is more, too, than reminiscence by J. G. Ballard, who states in a foreword that the novel describes his experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945.
Ballard suggests by the end of the novel that World War II was an ominous illustration of mankind’s propensity to destroy itself. During the last days of the war, Jim is drawn into a new series of adventures, roaming the countryside as the lackey and dependent of a cosmopolitan crew of bandits. A strange notion takes the mind of the boy, who is by that time age fourteen. He believes that World War II has ended simply so that a third war can begin. That notion arises partly because Jim is naive, confused as a result of hunger and illness, and influenced by the profiteer bandits. Most influential, however, is Jim’s impression when he sees in the sky the glow of the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, some five hundred miles to the...
(The entire section is 577 words.)