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Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

• Hardcover: 279 pages

• Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 1984

• ISBN: 0671530518

• Genre: Historical Fiction

• Recommended For: Readers interested in World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific. Anyone interested in viewing war through the eyes of a child.

Quick Review: Earns an 88 %, or 4.4 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Empire of the Sun Rubric

An important novel, Empire of the Sun provides insight to what it’s like to experience war through the eyes of a child, and gives readers an excuse to educate themselves on the war in the Pacific during WWII.

How I Got Here: Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun has always been a favorite film, and I have been meaning to read the book for years. One of the tasks in The Seasonal Reading Challenge required reading one of the “Best War Novels”, so I jumped at the opportunity to cross this one off my TBR list.

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, tells of a young boy’s struggle to survive World War II in China.

Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.

Shanghai, 1941 — a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war…and the dawn of a blighted world.

Ballard’s enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.

My Analysis and Critique:

Empire of the Sun is an important book, both as a historical work and as an example of a child’s experience in war. Immediately when I started to read it, I thought that it is a work that should be taught in school, right alongside The Diary of Anne Frank, as it provides insight into the World War II Pacific experience. Yet, it would be a pretty hard read for youth readers, as, at times, it was a pretty hard read for me. Certain parts of the plot were hard to follow, and this is why Empire of the Sun doesn’t earn 5 stars with me. This is also why I could say what I never say: the movie was better than the book in a few ways.

What Worked:

-Imagery and setting: WWII Shanghai came to life via Ballard’s writing. The descriptions of the city, the people, and the experiences were very vivid, and most often were shocking. I saw the city before Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese occupied Shanghai, but allowed the residents to live and work pretty much as they always had before. Yet, this city is already a wasteland of poverty and death:

Refugees from the towns and villages around Shanghai were pouring into the city. Wooden carts and rickshaws crowded Amherst Avenue, each loaded with a peasant family’s entire possessions. Adults and children bent under the bales strapped to their backs, forcing the wheels with their hands. Rickshaw coolies hauled at their shafts, chanting and spitting, veins as thick as fingers clenched into the meat of their swollen calves. Petty clerks pushed bicycles loaded with mattresses, charcoal stoves and sacks of rice. A legless beggar, his thorax strapped into a huge leather shoe, swung himself along the road through the maze of wheels, a wooden dumbbell in each hand. He spat and swiped at the Packard when Yang tried to force him out of the car’s way, and then vanished among the wheels and pedicabs and rickshaws, confident in his kingdom of saliva and dust.  (12)

This is the world Jim, the protagonist, grows up in, and once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the city spirals into mass confusion, and Jim is caught up in the middle of it, surrounded by violence and death. As Jim moves from war-torn Shanghai to an internment camp, Ballard expertly illustrates what it was truly like, through the eyes of a child.

-Characterization: Jim is a sad, strange boy dealing with his world turned upside down and inside out. Early in the novel, he is reading Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and it’s immediately clear that his experiences will be very Alice-like. Ballard’s Jim is a very needy boy–he is starving for attention from his parents, and once he is separated from them, he is starving for attention from any and all adults around him. Jim is also a survivor–he does whatever it takes to get through his experiences, whether it means cozying up to the Japanese enemy, offering up whatever he has or could get to the morally-corrupt adults, or manipulating whatever system is in place so that he can get what he needs the most.

All of Ballard’s minor characters come to life via his descriptions and dialogue. Jim encounters a variety of people during his war experience: Chinese street thugs, Japanese soldiers and officers, British elite trying to cope with their new limited circumstances, and American con artists, to name a few. Everyone he sees and encounters comes are realistic and true.

-The Book as History Lesson: I learned so much from this book, and what it didn’t tell me, I sought out via my husband (a history buff) or the internet. This is my favorite kind of book, the kind that drives me to seek knowledge. I feel now that I understand quite a bit more about the war in the Pacific, and what it was like to experience the war in Shanghai. Most likely, I will seek further information on this area and period of history because of my reading of this book. This is one of the greatest achievements of any book: the ability to spur on the reader to seek more.

What Didn’t Work:

-Plot Development/Writing Style: So maybe I’m not a good reader, or I just didn’t get a few of the scenes, but at times the plot just doesn’t make sense. For example, young Jim thinks he’s responsible for starting the war after watching a Japanese cruiser fire upon a British ship in the Bund river. I know, from having watched the movie, that the Japanese ship is making use of a signal lamp and that Jim, having some childish fun, uses his own lamp to signal back to the ship. Right after this, the ship fires upon the British, causing Jamie to think he might’ve mistakenly signaled something that caused the Japanese aggression. Yet, in the book, all I see is Jamie banging on the window while he watches the Japanese signaling, the Japanese firing on the Brits, and then, while battle ensues, Jim sits on the bed thinking he started the whole thing:

Jim watched them somberly. He realized that he himself had probably started the war, with his confused semaphores from the window that the Japanese officers in the motor launch had misinterpreted.   (28)

So, apparently the Jim’s lamp signaling happened, I just never saw it.

This kind of reader confusion happens a couple of times in the book, and I blame Ballard’s awesome use of imagery. His descriptions are so good that somehow they actually hide the plot. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, what was happening and what was simply in Jim’s head. My husband thinks this confusion might be intentional on Ballard’s part, to truly illustrate the confusion of a child in war. This could most likely be the case, but it’s somewhat hard on the reader.

Empire of the Sun Christian BaleBook vs. Movie:

This is one of the most rarest of occasions, as I’m going to say that in a lot of ways I preferred the movie over the book. Of course, the movie doesn’t quite bring to life the characters, particularly Jamie, as well as the book, and I didn’t get all of the cultural and historical background that I got in the book. Yet, as a story, for me, it worked better. I wasn’t confused by plot that was made ambiguous by creative narrative styles and imagery, and I preferred the ending. The movie did cut out a good chunk of Jim’s post-war experience, which I was fascinated by, but still, as a story, I preferred it. I really can’t believe I’m saying that–I never say that. But, I definitely recommend the book alongside the movie for a very educational and moving experience.


Goodreads Reviews


Using’s number generator, I have selected four book winners! Here they are!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: the winner is Arabella of The Genteel Arsenal!

And Then There Were None: the winner is Jared Q!

A Visit from the Goon Squad: the winner is Lena M!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: the winner is Ankit of Ankit the Reviewer!

The winners have two days to respond to my emails before I select new winners.

FYI, there were not many entries for these books. Thus, for future reference, if you have any interest in the books I am giving away, you should really sign up! For a few of these, there was a 1 in 4 chance! That’s pretty good odds, people!

From here on, I will probably only give away a book at a time, depending upon my monetary funds. : )

This week, I am offering up my gently-used, paperback copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Here is Goodreads’ Synopsis:

 A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

To enter this contest, simply fill out the form below with your name and contact info. This contest will run for a week, the winner will be selected at random (using a random generator) and I will announce the winner and mail the book out the following week! Please enter, as I am ready to share!

This giveaway has ended!

I haven’t checked in with the Sunday Salon in a while, so today is a good time to do so!

Well, as mentioned on Friday, I was in an apathetic funk all week. I didn’t do much of anything, including blogging. I did write a Happy Birthday post for Charles Dickens, as it would’ve been wrong not to as I spent so much time getting to know him in January. Which, by the way, I did complete all of my posts for Charles Dickens month and finished Bleak House in January. Win for me!

I have been reading in my funk, and am still reading Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw and I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. I should have both books finished this week. Yesterday, I picked up volumes 2 and 3 of Locke and Key by Joe Hill at Mysterious Galaxy Mysterious Galaxy bookstore San Diegobookstore, so I’ll be reading those this week as well.

Speaking of Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, after much debate about affiliation, I have decided to hitch my wagon to Mysterious Galaxy and IndieBound books as an affiliate. For the last month or so, I have been considering what it means to be an affiliate, and would it be like selling out or going commercial if I did so? Am I plugging in like Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival? I don’t want my blog to be a crummy commercial. After being approached by Audible and I considered Amazon, I decided that I would affiliate my blog with something that can use some attention. I realized that I could use affiliation to show my love for my favorite bookstore and help support other struggling independent bookstores. So, I applied for and was accepted as an affiliate for Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore and IndieBound. Now, if, by some off-chance, a reader clicks on one of the links that is connected to MG books or IndieBound AND decides to BUY the book via the link, I will get a small commission. However, that is unlikely, although it would be very cool. But, at least I am spreading the word about independent bookstores and Mysterious Galaxy, the coolest bookstores in Southern California (there are two- one in San Diego and one in Redondo Beach).

Another blogging thing I was considering was copyright. I see all of my friends’ blogs have little copyright symbols or some sort of copyright statement at the bottom of their page. What’s the deal with this? Do I need to do this? What do I need to do to get started on this? If anyone can give me some advice on this topic, I’d appreciate it!

Meanwhile, in my outside-of-blogging life, my husband and I have a dilemma on our hands. It looks like this:

Morgan Freeman the stray cat

This is a young gentleman who we like to call Mr. Fluffers or Morgan Freeman (he’s so cool and calm around our own hissing cats that he seems to be ready to handle any job in a crisis, much like Freeman in his presidential roles). He’s been hanging out on our porch the last few days, and the collar that he wore on Wednesday is no longer there. So, there is no contact info. One of his eyes is sorta cataract-y, and he’s awfully thin and needy, so we decided to let him into the house last night. Our little lady cats are not too happy with this decision, but what are we to do? He might get eaten by a coyote or beaten up by one of those ginormous raccoons I see fishing in the sewers. Today, I will make some posters to post around the neighborhood and put a “found cat” listing on Craig’s List. Then, today or tomorrow, I will take him into a vet or the humane society to see if he has a microchip that we can scan. Poor Morgan Freeman. Is he somebody’s lost baby? Is he abandoned? Who are you Morgan Freeman?

Other mentionables before I sign off on Sunday–

I am offering four giveaways this week! I am giving away Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and And Then There Were None. These are all in very good condition (Kavalier and Clay and And Then There Were None are brand new!) and are all very popular and/or acclaimed books. I will mail them out next week, to anywhere! So, sign up people! I don’t have that many followers on my site, and not many people have signed up, so you have a very good chance of winning! Just do it! Click on the links attached to each of the titles above to be directed to the announcement post and sign-up form. All I need is your name and contact info. That’s it! You don’t have to follow my blog and you don’t need to leave a comment. I’m just trying to share the love with other book lovers!

• I should be posting my reviews of The Drawing of the Three and Locke and Key, vol. 1 this week. Be on the lookout for those!

the Stephen King Project• Obviously, January is over, and I have not yet shared my challenges progress. I will do that now!

Charles Dickens Month in January–COMPLETE, with Bleak House read and 5 Dickens- related posts written.

End of the World Challenge: have read 2952 pages toward my goal of 3500 pages (really? only 3500 pages? that’s the end of the world? someone has to have won by now. I’ll be done with this challenge by the end of the week! oh, I just read the rules. it’s the person who reads the most pages by the end of the year that gets paid out a penny per page via giftcard, up to a limit of 3500 pages. I see…).

The Stephen King Project: have read two books towards my goal of 12 books. This will be a piece of cake!

The Dark Tower Challenge: have read the first two books of the series. I am actually holding myself back from reading The Wastelands right now. I want to have just finished Wizard and Glass when The Wind Through the Keyhole comes out in late April. I guess I’ll read a book per month!

The Award-Winning Challenge: have read two books towards this challenge, and am currently working on the third.

Back to the Classics Challenge and A Classics Challenge: have read one book towards both of these challenges, and am working on the second. I have written one post for A Classics Challenge, and will probably put my February post out later this week.

What’s in a Name Challenge: Have read one book (Bleak House) towards the challenge. 5 more to go!

Well, I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday! If you have any advice regarding copyrighting blogs, please leave a comment! Well, of course, please leave a comment about whatever you want. Also, don’t forget to sign up for one of my giveaways! I want to give you a book!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The third of four book giveaways going on this week at Adventures in Borkdom! I have not read this yet, but I will be very soon! I received two copies of this book for Christmas, and so, I will be giving one away (I’m keeping the hardcover, gently-used copy that I received from a fellow blogger).

I am offering a paperback, brand-spanking new, obviously never written-in copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It’s highly acclaimed and won a Pulitzer–we all need to read this book!

Here’s Goodreads’ synopsis of the book:

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.

To enter this contest, simply fill out the form below with your name and contact info. This contest will run for a week, the winner will be selected at random (using a random generator) and I will announce the winner and mail the book out the following week! Please enter, as I am ready to share!

This giveaway has ended.

• Outlander (20th Anniversary Edition) by Diana Gabaldon
• Hardback: 662 p
• Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2011 (orig. publ. 1991)
• ISBN- 13: 978-0-440-42320-1
• Genre: Historical Fiction; Romance; Fantasy
• Recommended for: Anyone interested in history and/or a good love story
Quick Review: Outlander offers adventure, intrigue, history, time travel, violence, an epic love story, lore, brawls, battle, witches, blood poisoning, a wooden leg, and haystack sex. What more could you want?

How I Got Here: I’ve been meaning to read this ever since it was a Group Reads pick for the Seasonal Reading Challenge on Goodreads. I checked it out at the library in August and read it to satisfy a task for the Fall Reading Challenge.

The Book: Instead of summarizing it myself, I’ll provide Gabaldon’s own synopsis from her website:

In 1946, after WWII, a young Englishwoman named Claire Beauchamp Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank.   She’s an ex-combat nurse, he’s been in the army as well, they’ve been separated for the last six years, and this is a second honeymoon; they’re getting re-acquainted with each other, thinking of starting a family.  But one day Claire goes out walking by herself, and comes across a circle of standing stones–such circles are in fact common all over northern Britain.  She walks through a cleft stone in the circle….and disappears.  Back into 1743, where the first person she meets is a gentleman in an 18th-century army officer’s uniform.  This gentleman, Jack Randall, looks just like her husband Frank–and proves to be Frank’s six-times-great-grandfather.  Unfortunately, he also proves to be a sadistic bisexual pervert, and while trying to escape from him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Highland Scots, who are also trying to get away from Black Jack Randall–though for other reasons.

In order to avoid being handed over to Captain Randall, Claire is obliged to marry one of the young clansmen.  So she finds herself trying to escape from Castle Leoch and her Scottish captors, trying to get back to her husband Frank, trying to avoid being recaptured by Captain Randall–and falling in love with Jamie Fraser, the young man she’s been forced to marry.   The story rolls on from there…

My Analysis and Critique: I really enjoyed this novel. It took a little longer to read than I expected, but I credit that to the richness in description and detail. Outlander spoke to a reader inside of me that I haven’t nurtured in a long while- the reader who, as a young, naive teenager with dreams of true love and romance, read her mom’s Victoria Holt novels with relish. Outlander also spoke to the historian in me.

The first chapters set up the novel with quite a bit of foreshadowing. It includes her husband Frank researching his Scottish lineage, Claire’s ponderance over a Scottish henge, a palm reading indicating her future (past) second marriage, and a ghostly, kilted man staring up at Claire’s window. Gabaldon’s early foreshadowing helped me understand her purpose with the novel and the overall meaning (yes, there is an underlying meaning to this novel, beyond a highlander hunk romance, which I will get to shortly!).

Mainly, what I enjoyed in this novel was the local color and descriptions of the countryside. I also learned a bit about English-Scotch conflicts, herbalism, henges (I didn’t know there were so many other than Stonehenge), and the Jacobite uprising of 1745. This book made me want to do some research, which I always appreciate in a book.

I’ve read many reviews of Outlander on Goodreads, and found that at least half of the readers complained about gratuitous sex scenes. I won’t say that I didn’t notice them, but I know that they won’t stand prominent in my recollection of this novel in the future. What I will remember is the honest depiction of a budding, intense love affair between Claire and Jaime. They began with a solid friendship, circumstantially are married, and exponentially fall in passionate love with each other. It felt right and true to me, never gratuitous.

Another point of contention with some readers is the depiction of graphic violence–namely, a wife beating and a sodomitic rape scene. While I was bothered by both of these scenes, I think that was the point. While readers may be seduced into thinking Outlander is simply a romance novel with historical leanings, it is not. One must remember that Gabaldon was a research professor leaning heavily upon a university library’s stacks when she wrote the novel. I think her purpose in delivering these graphic scenes is clear when considering the flippant analysis of Jonathan Randall by Claire and her husband at the beginning of the novel when they are tracing Frank’s lineage. They are amused that he was a rogue, and Claire jokingly comments “So you have the proverbial horse thief in your family tree?”

However, Gabaldon shows the harsh reality of what a rogue can truly be–sadistic, outrageously violent, and deadly. Randall is no joking matter to the eighteenth century Scots who had to deal with his violent and sexual urges. Through Claire Beauchamp’s story, we learn just how simple, yet dangerous, life was beyond the pages of our history books. I appreciated the honesty in Gabaldon’s writing and the squeamishness I sometimes felt. Uncomfortable is good when it comes to storytelling, it is what makes us assess ourselves and the world around us.

In short, Outlander offers adventure, intrigue, history, time travel, violence, an epic love story, lore, brawls, battle, witches, blood poisoning, a wooden leg, and haystack sex. What more could you want?


  1. Visit Diana Gabaldon’s website
  2. See Goodreads synopis and reviews