cover image Miracles of Life. Shanghai to Shepperton, an Autobiography

Miracles of Life. Shanghai to Shepperton, an Autobiography

J.G. Ballard. Norton/Liveright, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87140-420-6

Completed just before he died in 2009 at age 79, this compelling memoir by SF novelist Ballard (Kingdom Come) vividly portrays the vanished world of the British upper classes in Shanghai and Cambridge before and after WWII. Some of Ballard's real-life adventures growing up in Shanghai appeared in his dazzling 1984 novel (and later Spielberg vehicle), Empire of the Sun, and here he fleshes out his privileged life as the son of a prominent China Printing and Finishing Company executive living in a comfortable house in the international suburbs of Shanghai full of servants named only No. 1 boy or No. 2 Coolie. Despite the Japanese invasion of 1937, a pleasant social life continued, insulated from Chinese destitution, yet in telling, lurid flashes, Ballard as a boy became aware of the wretchedness of others' lives around him and the violence the war wrought. Interned from 1943 until the end of the war with other internationals at the malaria-prone Lunghua Camp, Ballard felt an intimacy with his parents he had never known before, and which he later imparted in the single-handed raising of his own three children after the untimely death of his young wife, Mary. From his first novel in 1963, The Drowned World, Ballard lived "on the fringes of literary London," plying his trade in science fiction because of what he gleaned in its "vitality" and "visionary engine." Early influences like Victor Gollancz, Kingsley Amis, and Eduardo Paolozzi appear within these pages of Ballard's poignant and ephemeral "stage set." (Feb.)