Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

J. G. Ballard declares this novel to be an account of his time in Shanghai and in the Lunghua prison camp during World War II. While this fascinating work may reveal much about its author, its scope and perceptions are universally applicable.

Jim has never known any life but that of an upper-class British expatriate in Shanghai. Ballard makes no pretense of nobility for the young Jim, who is rude to his servants and shows no comprehension of their lifestyle, as displayed by his surprise when one of his servants notes that her entire family lives in one room. From his sheltered perspective, Jim enjoys the fancy parties thrown by his father’s fellow expatriates and others who are used to privilege.

All of this changes on December 8, 1941, when the Japanese military attacks an American ship, the U.S.S. Wake, and a British ship, the H.M.S. Petrel, in Shanghai harbor. Having declared war on the United States, Japan immediately begins a full occupation of Shanghai. Jim’s father is injured while saving a British sailor from the Petrel, and he is taken to the hospital.

Jim, also taken to the hospital, manages to escape, while his parents are sent to be interred at the Woosung prison camp. Jim sees Shanghai transformed from a stratified but thriving metropolis into several bitter, prejudiced enclaves. He notes that “without its beggars,” the city “seemed all the poorer.” He spends some time trying to surrender, being stymied at each attempt. Ballard writes that “Jim had always despised anyone who surrendered, but surrendering to the enemy was more difficult than it seemed.” It is observations such as these that make this novel’s tone comparable to the works of Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller.

As the Japanese troops tighten their...

(The entire section is 740 words.)