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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography Hardcover – April 30, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
Ballard tells of his childhood in Shanghai, internment there under the Japanese, his university years in England, right through to his writing career and the joys and tragedies he's experienced as a father and husband, and his love of family life.
What makes this book appealing is that it's not only well written and direct, but also that Ballard tells his story with an honesty and poignancy that is so rare in many autobiographies today.
This isn't about Ballard the writer, but about the circumstances and events that shaped and formed his personal values and beliefs.
You don't have to have read Ballard's fiction to enjoy this book either (although his Shanghai reminisces provide a fascinating insight into Empire of the Sun, the novel based on his internment experiences).
What stands out above all else is his enjoyment of childhood and subsequent selfless devotion and enjoyment of family through all the joys and tragedy he experienced.
His life affirming views on childhood, fatherhood, and single parenthood set this book apart from those hundreds of other autobiographies available that only tell of how individuals found (or lost) their fame or fortune.
As a young boy in Shanghai, J. G. Ballard was unsettled by the deep social differences between the wealthy foreign bourgeoisie and the extreme poverty of the local population with `orphans left to starve in doorways'.
The picture became even grimmer when the Japanese invaded China and war atrocities (clubbing to death) became nearly an everyday street scene. `Starving families sat around the gates, the women wailing and holding up their skeletal children.'
On his return to England after the war, he was confronted with the English class system, `an instrument of political control'. For the higher classes `change was the enemy of everything they believed in.' Meanwhile, the living standard of the working class was dreadful: `how bleakly they lived, how poorly paid, educated, housed and fed ... a vast exploited workforce, not much better off than the industrial workers in Shanghai.'
Studying in Cambridge he saw that for the inmates `heterosexuality was a curious choice.'
His family life
At the beginning of the 20th century, `children were an appendage to parents, somewhere between the servants and an obedient Labrador' and `childhood was a gamble with disease and early death.' To the contrary, J.G. Ballard was a father and a mother for his children after the early death of his wife.
His medical studies in Cambridge (dissection) taught him `that though death was the end, the human imagination and the human spirit could triumph over our own dissolution.Read more ›
I've read Ballard's work before. Mainly his SF novels and occasional essay or two and his writing always fascinated me. I'm a great admirer of new-wave science fiction of the 60's and Ballard's work stands as a perfect example of this movement. It is fresh and radical, more fearsome of technology than fascinated by it, but still it holds some longing for the future and its possibilities. Ballard and his generation were avant-garde - not just for the science fiction but for the entire literature of the 2nd half of 20th century. All of this promised me a fascinating read and I wasn't disappointed.
Ballard started work on this biography after he was diagnosed prostate cancer. He was 78 then and he lived quite an eventful life. First part of the book deals with his growing up in Shanghai and his life in prison camp during World War II (International Settlement in Shanghai where Ballard live with his parent was occupied by Japanese after an attack on Pearl Harbor) - before this autobiography this was fictionalized in "Empire of the Sun". Second part of the book starts with young Ballard moving to England from where the rest of his life will be lived. Both parts are equally fascinating though they highlight different aspects of life and may not be equally interesting to readers who are looking for literary influences, gossip or musings about literature in general. Both parts show that Ballard is a skillful writer.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
How fascinating to see Shanghai life through the eyes of a young boy during an otherwise obscure time in an otherwise obscure place...obscure from my perspective anyway. Read morePublished on January 1, 2014 by Tasawuf
Ballard is known for his dystopian, erotic impuses, and psychological science fiction. His stories intimate a classic grouchy British male, when he lived for the most part a very... Read morePublished on May 14, 2013 by Clarice Stasz
In Miracles of Life, JG Ballard tells the story of a boy who grew up in Shanghai before the last war, was allowed to roam the city at will, immersing himself in exotic and cruel... Read morePublished on February 22, 2013 by David Ljunggren
Obviously Ballard is a great writer and the book has some interesting aspects to it, but, well there's not a narrative drive and it sort of ambles along. Read morePublished on June 3, 2012 by jamprat
This was a fascinating and well written memoire.
It is pretty short and certainly isn't comprehensive when it come to Ballard's writing career. Read more
JG Ballard lowers his shields as an older man. This book is a more personal and unguarded view (than The Kindness of Women) of the life of an interesting person and prolific,... Read morePublished on January 22, 2012 by Suzanne Bennett