Miracles Of Life Hardcover – Mar 11 2008
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'A particular delight of this lyrical autobiography lies in spotting the landscapes and events that appear subtly reconfigured, in Ballard's fiction.' Observer 'Critics' Picks for 2008' 'The long--awaited memoirs of one of the most interesting British writers.' Sunday Times 'Picks for 2008' 'This book should make yet more converts to a cause that Ballard's devotees have been pleading for years: that here, bafflingly unacknowledged, has been one of the greatest and sharpest imaginations at work in literature.' Independent on Sunday 'Unobtrusively well--written!and fascinating.' Literary Review 'The origins of this extraordinary and wonderful writer are now set out in this pellucid, forgiving, tranquil autobiography...this is a remarkable autobiography, treating events which most of us can barely imagine with tranquil dignity and exactness...Ballard has carried out Matthew Arnold's imprecation to "see life steadily and see it whole". This is an unforgettable farewell.' The Spectator 'Brilliant and mesmerising...this wonderful, clear-sighted autobiography...has a wisdom and depth that makes you long to hug the author and say '"Thank you" and wish him well.' Daily Mail 'What this brief, modest and occasionally shattering book only glances at is the extraordinary body of work that has flowed from this remarkable life...fascinating..."Miracles of Life" also tells quite another story, unconscious and inadvertent, but finally brave in a way that elevates it to a level of greatness.' The Observer 'Exquisitely written..."Miracles of Life", a subtle, restlessly enquiring work of touching humanity, is Ballard's crowning achievement.' Financial Times 'A jewel...as a writer, he can simply take the breath away.' The Independent 'J.G. Ballard's memoir may be short but it is long on compassion, humour and insight...it is infused with a tremendous generosity of spirit.' Tatler 'His prose has clarity and concision. He is mordant and brutally direct...unexpected and funny...fascinating stuff...the overwhelming impression gained is of the man's great generosity.' GQ 'The greatest of living English writers!a superb memoir.' Mail on Sunday 'What a wonderful book. If there's a better memoir by a contemporary English writer, I don't know it.' Daily Telegraph 'Fascinating!amazingly lucid!a memoir that effortlessly combines emotional frankness with artistic insight.' The Guardian 'Essential reading for fans.' New Statesman
About the Author
J.G. Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai, where his father was a businessman. After internment in a civilian prison camp, he and his family returned to England in 1946. He published his first novel, The Drowned World, in 1961. His 1984 bestseller 'Empire of the Sun' won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was later filmed by Steven Spielberg. His most recent novel is 'Kingdom Come', published in 2006.
Top Customer Reviews
Much of the first half is devoted to his childhood in a Japanese internment camp --fictionalized (although only partially so) in "Empire Of The Sun"--and the culture shock of returning to stodgy, repressed post-war England. Dallying in medical school at Cambridge U, he yearns to be a writer and his imagination becomes electrified when he is introduced to the surrealist art movement at The National Gallery. Still struggling finding his voice, he joins the RAF and is sent for training to Winnipeg, Canada, where a turnstile of science fiction novels (in Moose Jaw!) inspires him to explore and rethink this misunderstood genre. Returning to England as an ad copywriter, he marries a woman who supports his aspirations and fathers three children. But his wife dies too young from pneumonia, leaving him a single father just as his writing career is taking off. Putting his children first, he still manages to launch "New World" magazine with Michael Moorcock and changes the course of science fiction literature.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.'
As an editor of a scientific magazine `Chemistry and Industry', he read at first hand reports on new discoveries in the drug, computer and nuclear weapons industries.
He saw the originality and vitality of Science Fiction, which he wanted to `interiorize' by `looking for the pathology that underlay the consumer society, the TV landscape and the nuclear arms race.' For him, writers of so-called serious fiction wrote first and foremost about themselves.
Other deep influences were Freud and the surrealists, who showed him a more real and meaningful world.
As a writer he considered himself a lifelong outsider and maverick, devoted to predicting and provoking change.
Themes and vision on mankind
Against all these backgrounds, J.G. Ballard saw perspicaciously that `human beings have far darker imaginations' than normally accepted. Human beings are often irrational and dangerous.' Mankind is ruled by reason and self-interest only when it suits us.
Fundamentally, his fiction `is the dissection of a deep pathology, witnessed in Shanghai and expressed in the threat of nuclear war and the assassination of J.F. Kennedy.'
The result of all these unsettling confrontations and psycho-pathological insights are masterpieces like `Empire of the Sun' or disturbing provocative nightmares of auto-destruction like `Crash'.
This book is a must read for all amateurs of English and world literature and or the admirers of J. G. Ballard's iconoclastic prose.
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. His memory is keen, and his recollection of events is something to behold.
When describing his life as a boy and young adult Ballard sort of rewrites history. This is an integral aspect of every autobiography which basically shows that thinking about ourselves always becomes fictionalized. That does not mean that Ballard lies in his autobiography (as far as I can tell), it means that Ballard tends to reinterpret past events using a knowledge that wasn't in his disposal when they occurred. Sometimes he overstretches himself and sometimes these interpretations hit the mark precisely. Browsing through these facts and fictions is what makes this book an interesting read for any reader - one that is already familiar with Ballard's work and one that just begins to discover him.
For my part, I found his Shanghai musings rather uninteresting. They do portrait intricacies of a multicultural life in a foreign country, and they do shed some light on an economic colonization of Asia but for the most part they are Ballard's reinvention (or reinterpretation) of his family. Nevertheless, Shanghai experience is crucial for understanding of Ballard's literary work and 2nd part of the book will deal with that.
Second part of the book is where things become interesting (at least for me). It captures the essence of post-World War II Britain, it deals with art and artist and rise of the new paradigm in literature, it presents an insight into a cultural history of the 20th century from an insider's point of view - insider being one of the most important British authors in past 60 years.
Throughout the book Ballard yet again shows his writing skills. His sentence is perfect and has a nice flow so that even when he writes about most tiresome themes you feel compelled to go on, to discover what lies on a next page and how it all fits together. It's a rare skill and seeing it in action reminds me of why I wanted to study literature in the first place.
"Miracle of life" is something you really should read if you're interested in the history of the 20th century. It doesn't show you great events and important things (as "official" and more "serious" handbooks do). It leads you through the backstreets and one should visit these if one hope to gain a semblance of an understanding of how marvelous, intriguing, troublesome and challenging this life on Earth is.