Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography

Overview

A final statement from the greatest clairvoyant of twentieth-century literature.

Never before published in America, this revelatory autobiography—hailed as “fascinating [and] amazingly lucid” (Guardian)—charts the remarkable story of James Graham Ballard, a man described by Martin Amis as “the most original English writer of the last century.” Beginning with his Shanghai childhood, Miracles of Life guides us from the deprivations of Lunghua Camp during World War II, which ...

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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography

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Overview

A final statement from the greatest clairvoyant of twentieth-century literature.

Never before published in America, this revelatory autobiography—hailed as “fascinating [and] amazingly lucid” (Guardian)—charts the remarkable story of James Graham Ballard, a man described by Martin Amis as “the most original English writer of the last century.” Beginning with his Shanghai childhood, Miracles of Life guides us from the deprivations of Lunghua Camp during World War II, which provide the back story for his best-selling Empire of the Sun, to his arrival in war-torn England and his emergence as “the ideal chronicler of our disturbed modernity” (Observer). With prose of characteristic precision, Ballard movingly recalls his first attempts at science fiction, the 1970 American pulping of The Atrocity Exhibition—which sprang from his fascination with JFK conspiracy theories—and his life as a single father after the premature death of his wife. “This book should make yet more converts to a cause that Ballard’s devotees have been pleading for years” (Independent).

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
Ballard's memoir, Miracles of Life, was written in his final years, when he knew he was dying from advanced prostate cancer. It's warmer, plainer and more elegiac than his admirers may have foreseen…Beneath Ballard's inherently critical mind, and in contrast to the alienation that permeates his fiction, Miracles of Life slowly unfolds into a rather big-hearted book about family and child rearing.
The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
This wonderful book—"wonderful" literally, in that it is full of wonders—has…many pleasures: exceptionally lucid, graceful and evocative prose; a heartfelt and deeply moving account of Ballard's too-brief marriage and his great love for his children; a careful delineation of his writing career and the determination with which he pursued it despite numerous setbacks and disappointments; and a further exploration of the central themes of his work…Plainly put, Miracles of Life is a joy. Ballard must have been exceptionally good company, funny and kind and talkative, knowledgeable about many things and interested in everything. I wish I had known him, but Miracles of Life takes me, and everyone else who reads it, a long way toward just that.
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Seattle Times - Michael Upchurch
“Warm,’ ‘poignant’ and ‘loving’ aren’t adjectives you’d readily apply to the work of British novelist J.G. Ballard (1930-2009). But in his memoir…those adjectives are what come to mind ... albeit with some subversive, complicating twists…That sense of sabotaged realities permeates all his fiction, from The Drowned World (1952) to his final novel, Kingdom Come (2006). Miracles of Life, along with telling his own powerful personal story, casts light on where his unique vision came from.”
Time Out Chicago - Jonathan Messinger
“Though the book has all the discursiveness one might expect from a memoir written by a man facing down death, there’s still a sharpness to Ballard’s sense of humor, particularly when it comes to his interactions with Hollywood (he calls Holly Hunter’s press conference defense of the movie Crash the best performance at Cannes). He remained, to the end, a gimlet-eyed bard.”
Dwight Garner - New York Times
“Warmer, plainer and more elegiac than his admirers may have foreseen… What’s largely new, and savage, in this memoir is the level of disillusionment Ballard came to feel during the war, about both England and his own distant parents… I’m not sure I’ve read a more comprehensive takedown of the postwar British psyche… Beneath Ballard’s inherently critical mind, and in contrast to the alienation that permeates his fiction, Miracles of Life slowly unfolds into a rather big-hearted book about family and child rearing… I read it with deep interest as critic and father.”
Michael Upchurch - Seattle Times
“Warm,’ ‘poignant’ and ‘loving’ aren’t adjectives you’d readily apply to the work of British novelist J.G. Ballard (1930-2009). But in his memoir…those adjectives are what come to mind ... albeit with some subversive, complicating twists…That sense of sabotaged realities permeates all his fiction, from The Drowned World (1952) to his final novel, Kingdom Come (2006). Miracles of Life, along with telling his own powerful personal story, casts light on where his unique vision came from.”
Jonathan Messinger - Time Out Chicago
“Though the book has all the discursiveness one might expect from a memoir written by a man facing down death, there’s still a sharpness to Ballard’s sense of humor, particularly when it comes to his interactions with Hollywood (he calls Holly Hunter’s press conference defense of the movie Crash the best performance at Cannes). He remained, to the end, a gimlet-eyed bard.”
Dennis Lim - Bookforum
“With the same restraint and lucidity that defined so much of his fiction, Miracles of Life makes the case for viewing the work through the prism of the life, and indeed for deciphering the writings as a kind of post-traumatic eternal return… In the book’s most vivid passages, 1930s Shanghai comes to life as a playground for the budding surrealist.”
Kirkus Reviews
The unpredictably serene memoir from one of the most daring voices in fiction. Ballard (Kingdom Come, 2012, etc.), who died in 2009, was not just a revolutionary. He also demonstrated his extraordinary talent with a narrative range that ran from autobiographical fiction to the psychosexual antics of Crash. His 1969 collection The Atrocity Exhibition was so controversial, in fact, that Doubleday pulped the entire first print run. This autobiography, first published in the United Kingdom four years ago, was widely expected to be a revelation. Many were surprised to find that the book is instead a warm, nostalgic and kind remembrance, if lackluster in portraying the richness of the author's work. For fans of Empire of the Sun, the first half of the book portrays Ballard's experiences in the Lunghua internment camp near Shanghai during World War II and sheds light on his relationship with his parents. He also describes the tragic death of his wife, just after he started to establish himself as a writer, and to a lesser degree his unconventional relationship with lifelong partner Claire Walsh. Ballard reserves much of his affection for his children, for whom the memoir is named and who inspire unexpected humor. "Some fathers make good mothers," he writes, "and I hope I was one of them, though most of the women who know me would say that I made a very slatternly mother, notably unkeen on housework, unaware that homes need to be cleaned now and then, and too often to be found with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other--in short, the kind of mother, no doubt loving and easy-going, of who the social services deeply disapprove." The author pays surprisingly little attention to the work itself. He gives cursory mention to the firestorm that surrounded The Atrocity Exhibition, while he frames other novels in indistinct memories of their Hollywood adaptations. An affectionate, incomplete recollection of life's rich pageant.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871404206
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 2/4/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 445,763
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

J.G. Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and lived in England from 1946 until his death in London in 2009. He is the author of nineteen novels, including Empire of the Sun, The Drought, and Crash, with many of them made into major films.

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