Det är svårt att inte charmas av den här boken när grundtanken är så finurlig. Andra världskriget beskrivs ur ögonen på en engelsk pojke bosatt i Shanghai när kriget bryter ut där. I kaoset som följer när japanerna tar över Shanghai kommer han bort från sina föräldrar och ställs mot den hårda, oaristokratiska verkligheten. Han blir tvungen att plocka isär sig själv och allt han lärt sig dittills, och lyckas inte pussla ihop bitarna av sig själv när boken slutar. Det är sorgligt.
Boken påminde mig – tyvärr – om Primo Levi. Men emedan förintelseläger-/andra världskriget-böcker slåss på en klart saturerad marknad är Empire of the sun en väldigt rik läsupplevelse. Att beskriva krig ur ett barns ögon är genialiskt.
Språket är mycket detaljerat, ständiga beskrivningar av hur miljöerna ser ut och vad människorna gör. Jag hade lite svårt för det i början, men det gav sig. Han använder en hel del svåra ord (han är ju britt). Vem visste vad manure betyder? Wraith? Derelict aircraft? Allt drar ned tempot men det gör ingenting. Det här är en av de första brittiska böcker jag tycker om. Fast tekniskt sett är Ballard kines, så det räknas inte.
”Hello, Mr Guerevitch. I’m looking for my mother and father.”
”But how could they be here?” The old Russian pointed to Jim’s bruised face and shook his head. ”The whole world is at war and you’re still riding your bicycle around….”
As he peered at her through the cracks in his cubicle he tried to guess what she saw – a home-made cine film, perhapds, of herself in England before she was married, sitting on one of those sunlit lawns that seemed to cover the entire country. Jim assumed that it was those lawns that had provided the emergency airfields for the Battle of Britain. As he was aware from his observations in Shanghai, the Germans were not too keen on sunlit lawns. Was this why they had lost the Battle of Britain? Many of his ideas were hopelessly confused in a way that even Dr Ransome was too tired to disentangle.
Jim stared at his white hands and knees, and at the pinched face of the Japanese soldier, who seemed disconcerted by the light. Both of them were waiting for the rumble of sound that followed the bombflashes, but an unbroken silence lay over the stadium and the surrounding land, as if the sun had blinked, losing heart for a few seconds. Jim smiled at the Japanese, wishing that he could tell him that the light was a premonition of his death, the sight of his small soul joining the larger soul of the dying world.
Sitting beside Basie as he polished his nails, Jim realized that the entire experience of the war had barely touched the American. All the deaths and starvation were part of a confused roadside drama seen through the passenger window of the Buick, a cruel spectacle like the public stranglings in Shanghai which the British and American sailors watched during their shore-leaves. He had learned nothing from the war because he expected nothing, like the Chinese peasants whom he now looted and shot. As Dr Ransome had said, people who expected nothing were dangerous. Somehow, five hundred million Chinese had to be taught to expect everything.
Numbed by the sight of this dead pilot, Jim watched the youth’s knees slide into the water. He squatted on the sloping earth, turning the pages of Life and trying to concentrate on the photographs of Churchill and Eisenhower. For so long he had invested all his hopes in this young pilot, in that futile dream that they would fly away together, leaving Lunghua, Shanghai and the war forever behind them. He had needed the pilot to help him survive the war, this imaginary twin he had invented, a replica of himself whom he watched through the barbed wire. If the Japanese was dead, part of himself had died.