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The Cake Tree in the Ruins

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  260 ratings  ·  56 reviews
In 1945, Akiyuki Nosaka watched the Allied firebombing of Kobe kill his adoptive parents, and then witnessed his sister starving to death. The shocking and blisteringly memorable stories of The Cake Tree in the Ruins are based on his own experiences as a child in Japan during the Second World War.

They are stories of a lonely whale searching the oceans for a mate, who sacri
Paperback, 160 pages
Published August 2nd 2018 by Pushkin Press (first published 1975)
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Susan Budd
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Until I read the stories of Akiyuki Nosaka, I would not have thought World War II a suitable topic for fables. But it is eminently suitable.

The twelve stories in The Cake Tree in the Ruins have everything I like about fables, fairy tales, and children’s literature at its finest. There is the unadorned narrative style, the characters’ childlike logic, and the occasional breaks from third-person narration to address the reader directly.

Moreover, as in the best of children’s literature, Nosaka str
I haven't watched Studio Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies yet, which was adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka's story. But I've heard so many good things about it. So when I saw this collection of stories by Nosaka in NetGalley I had to request it. These are simple stories with a deceptively whimsical tone. Infused with magic realism and the extraordinary, they read like fables, and land as lightly as butterflies. But each bears the weight and trauma of the Allied war on Japan, which the author lived thro ...more
This is a series of short stories centered on the day the Emperor of Japan officially surrendered to the Allies in WWII: August 15, 1945. It was a good week after the atom and hydrogen bombs laid waste to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but this history-making event is not mentioned in this book.

The author died a few years ago so this collection has been lovingly put together and added to by the press. A version was published some years ago but this has more stories. The main form of attack on Japanese

I have never read anything quite like The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka and the sheer power of these stories – all of them set on the day of Japans unconditional surrender (August 15, 1945) brought me to my knees.

Deceptively simple, these stories read like children’s fables, dominated by innocent animals and children. But gradually, the horror of war permeates the pages and they become positively heart-wrenching and haunting.

An oversized and lonely blue whale falls in love with a Jap
Kasa Cotugno
A huge shoutout to Purshkin Press and to translator Ginny Takemori. This exquisite small volume introduces the work of Akiyuki Nosaka, virtually unknown to English readers. He was born in 1930, and so was able to remember life before and during World War II as a teenager in Japan.

True to Japanese custom, there is a name for his generation: yakeato, generation of the ashes -- children who have lived their entire lives without knowing sweetness of taste or experience. Although the stories cover d
Paula Bardell-Hedley
Aug 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Paula by: Edelweiss.
“Too many undernourished people and animals appear in these stories, I know, but it was wartime, after all.”
Every story in Akiyuki Nosaka's collection is set on the day of Japan’s unconditional surrender, an act which formerly ended World War II on 15th August 1945. The fictional pieces in The Cake Tree in the Ruins are based on the author’s own childhood memories of living through the Allied firebombing of Kobe – a catastrophic raid in which his mother and father perished (his sister la
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Smitha Murthy
Studio Ghibli’s movie “Grave of the Fireflies” about a brother and sister who try to survive during WWII in Japan is one of my favourite movies. But the fact that it was based on a short story by acclaimed Japanese novelist Akiyuki Nosaka got lost somewhere in the massive shadow of the Ghibli brand. I didn’t know it until I received “The Cake Tree in the Ruins”, a compact volume of his short stories from Pushkin Press for a review. And I can’t thank them enough for sending me this book. I read i ...more
Swaroop Kanti
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Gazing at the sharp blade glinting in the summer afternoon light, he told himself that if he wanted to keep the horse's trust he must quickly follow it in death."

The 15th of August 1945 - the day the war ended.

The Cake Tree in the Ruins is a beautiful, profound and heartbreaking collection of short stories by Akiyuki Nosaka. These very well-written stories are filled with instances of selfless love, sacrifice, honour, loyalty, innocence and hope. All the stories culminate the day the war ended.
Jackie Law
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Cake Tree In The Ruins, by Akiyuki Nosaka (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), is a collection of twelve short stories set in Japan towards the end of the Second World War. In 1945 the author watched the Allied fire bombing of Kobe kill his adoptive parents. He subsequently witnessed his sister starving to death. These stories are based on his experiences. They are dark and at times savage but this seems apt given the subject matter. Most end on the 15th of August 1945 when Japan surrender ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I received a digital advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Akiyuki Nosaka is best known as the author of “Grave of the Fireflies,” an award-winning short story that was adapted to film by Studio Ghibli, becoming one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time. The stories in this collection are diverse, but like “Grave of the Fireflies,” they also concern the tragedies of World War II, particularly as seen through the eyes of children and animals. This
Sarah Booth
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the saddest book I’ve ever willingly read. It was also incredibly beautiful. Growing up WWII was a major talking point in my family since both my father, uncle and maternal grandfather had been in it. Here is the story from the perspective of the people of Japan. The stories are almost all tragic of a people devastated by a war and the suffering of losing loved ones and experiencing starvation. It is hard to realize that this wasn’t that long ago.
My favorite story I think is the first o
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc
As all anthologies go, The Cake Tree in the Ruins is also a collection of stories which are different from one another and yet have a common thread. In this case, it is the horror that war leaves behind. Almost every story is extremely sad, and fair warning it will make you miserable. My second most favourite story of the bunch is the titular story about a generation of children who grew up solely on war rations and hence do not have the remotest idea about what decadent food is. But the one tha ...more
Chris Dino
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A poignant recollection of a time fallen into the dark gaps of history. Stories although heartbreaking, had delivered soft and tender moments of solace amidst the destructive appetite of war and chaos. The book is rich with feats of a melancholic celebration and a triumphant display of the human spirit at the brink.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
a book of fairy-ish tales where a child and/or animal starves to death at the end of each story? That’s getting a good review
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such a sad, magical, profound book
Books on Asia
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
Reviewed by Suzanne Kamata for Books on Asia

As an American reader, conditioned to expect happily-ever-after endings, or at least those in which justice is served, I found this to be an odd and disturbing book. From the titles of stories such as “The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine,” “The Mother That Turned into a Kite,” and “A Balloon in August,” one might expect whimsy or fantasy. While they do contain a bit of whimsy, these tales, rendered in highly readable English by translator Ginn
Katya Kazbek
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
J IS FOR JAPAN: Akiyuki Nosaka, The Cake Tree in the Ruins, 2015/2018
Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori 

Akiyuki Nosaka is perhaps best known for writing the short story that became the basis of studio Ghibli’s tragic cartoon “Grave of the fireflies” about a Japanese boy who dies of starvation right after the end of World War II.
I often don't read book descriptions afresh when I dive in, so I had no idea of the connection to the "Grave of the fireflies, or of Nosaka’s own harrowing experiences a
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully edited little book by The Pushkin Press, containing 12 stories by the Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka. In this deeply moving anti-war book 12 short stories are told, all ending on The 15th of August 1945, the day Japanese surrendered. This goes from a whale falling in love with a submarine to an American pilot hiding in the firebombed remains of a Japanese city, but every story plays in a Japan that is virtually reduced to a landscape of... nothingness when the B-29's fire-bombed almo ...more
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book belongs in the hands of every hawk and every dove. Might be the best exploration of the effects of war on a "system" I've ever read. There are no stories of military heroism--fighting-age men are nearly absent from any of the stories, other than as ghosts to their left-behind spouses and children--only stories of the ways war twists and distorts and destroys.

All of the stories are set on "The 15th of August 1945"--the day the Japanese surrendered--and most begin with "zeal for the glo
Emi Bevacqua
I was gutted by this Japanese collection of short takes dated at the end of World War II, from the perspective of the little and defenseless, including a romantic whale in love with a submarine, a parrot and his boy, an AWOL zoo keeper. Somehow Nosaka conveys the effects of a brutal six-year war with whimsy and lyricism.
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
These next three paragraphs are what I wrote, upon seeing the majority of this book, dressed up as a Pushkin Childrens' title a couple of years ago.

Out of extraordinary times comes extraordinary literature, and that's certainly the case with this book of fable-type Japanese short stories. They all centre around VJ Day – the submission by the Emperor of Japan to finally end WWII – and do so with galling, shocking, powerfully emotional and emotive darkness. At first we get something twee – a large
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
A touch of Aesop and the melancholy humanism of Vonnegut. Each of these stories has the ease of telling like a fairy tale, but the subject matter is so heartbreaking. A collection that illuminates all the simple things we lose in war time. All the stories share a Japanese setting as well as the declared end of the war in Japan (August 15th 1945).

Many of these stories involve children or animals...innocents that have to manage themselves in wartime.

Reading these tales, I think about Syria and All
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
*Score: 8.5/10*

Synopsis: From the author of The Grave of the Fireflies (made into a Studio Ghibli Animated Film), This is a collection of 12 short stories all happenning on the date of Japan' surrender during WWII (15 Aug 1945). The stories are told in fables style, like fairytales but mixed in with the real trauma of war. Most stories deal with how animals and children got impacted in such tragic times, focusing a lot more on the smaller moments as opposed to most war stories.


- So real, th
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I received an advanced e-book copy of The Cake Tree In The Ruins in exchange for a review from Netgalley.

The story that stuck out the most in this collection of short stories written by Ayikuki Nosaka was The Mother That Turned into a Kite. In this particular story along with the rest of the collection is about a story of survival during the last parts of the war in Japan during the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In The Mother That Turned into a Kite, you feel the sense of urgency to sur
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to crawl into safe arms and weep as I read the disturbingly sad stories in this book. The tales Akiyuki Nosaka tell are haunting and leave a heavy feeling of helplessness. Thank goodness they are shorts or I think my heart would not survive each tale. There are many books on war and strife but not many authors can make you feel such pain through the unlikely eyes of a whale, a parrot or a cockroach.

As I went from story to story, it made me nostalgic of Kurosawa's Dreams. I could imagin
Morgan O Reilly
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was one of those wonderful books you just happen upon while browsing.

All of the stories are set in the days leading up to the 15th of August, 1945, the date of Japan's surrender in WWII. The stories are short, sharp and deeply moving. They read like fables grandparents might tell children, with magical realism to the fore. Except these fables come with a parental warning. Although replete with talking animals, spiritual adventures and ludicrous inventions, these cautionary tales are loaded
Ginny Harland
This collection of short stories is gorgeous and haunting. Every story follows the weeks leading up to Japan's surrender on the 15th August 1945 - exploring love and hope and innocence and determination, and then culminating in destruction and grief and death.

Each story reads like a fairy-tale, such as the whale that falls in love with a submarine, or the dying wolf who rescues a sick little girl left behind after her family evacuated, or the mother and son who are reunited in death as kites. Bu
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A truly heart-wrenching, honest and thought provoking anthology of how devastating war is. Here we see tales of children, parents, animals, soldiers and prisoners in the face of senseless violence and horror; how they hold onto their humanity even as they're pushed into an endlessly dark corner by their own kind is both beautiful and devastating.

These can be read as fables - as many have already stated - but it is the deeper messages, underlying themes, narrative voice and the raw emotive force
Phillip Ramm
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese, short-story, war
Without the shadow of a doubt, THE saddest book I've ever experienced. The author, as a young child, lost his parents and sister to the firebombing of Kobe in WWII. The stories are all centred around his devastating experience. A touch of magic realism here and there lightens the tone, but we have to look directly into the futility of war and see first hand its horrific effects on mothers and children in order to... No, we cannot make sense of this. We can only read these tragedies and cry for t ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Like nothing I've ever read. The translation was excellent. Beautiful and devastating stories.

I could share many quotes, but this one was a punch in the gut and represents all of the senselessness: "The town where they were stationed was small, without any notable factories, and not at all the type of place to be targeted by the B-29s. It was simply unfortunate enough to lie in the path of some B-29s returning from a raid on a port 100 kilometres away, when they decided to offload the unused bo
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Akiyuki Nosaka (野坂 昭如 Nosaka Akiyuki) is a Japanese novelist, singer, lyricist, and former member of the House of Councillors. As a broadcasting writer he uses the name Yukio Aki (阿木 由紀夫 Aki Yukio) and his alias as a chanson singer is Claude Nosaka (クロード 野坂 Kurōdo Nosaka).

Nosaka was born in Kamakura, Kanagawa, the son of Sukeyuki Nosaka, who was a sub-governor of Niigata. Together with his sisters

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