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The Cake Tree in the Ruins

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  77 ratings  ·  26 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
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4.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  77 ratings  ·  26 reviews

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Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: me-the-reviewer
"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.
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
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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 later
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
These stories were so deceptively simple. They read like fables, glimmering and bright. But each were carved out from the day Japan surrendered in WWII, and everything that happened before it, and everything that happened after, so they carried the immense weight of pain and loss.
Mei Mukose
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really really really good. Each short story is very interesting and well written. This is my favourite book so far.
Michelle Westerlaken
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful account of alternative (possible) histories.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Elegant. Sad but beautiful stories that are heart warming without happy endings. Beautifully conceived and written.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I cannot remember reading a sadder book in my whole life, yet written with such delicacy and beauty. It does leave an exhausting feeling behind, as if I needed to recover from reading it.
Carol Tilley
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, stories, war
A beautiful, harrowing book. (Digital galley provided via Edelweiss)
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Simple tales with a big impact: re-imagining the genuine horrors of a terrible war's end. Death cannot be avoided in a world of fire and starvation, but innocence, love and loyalty hold true to the end.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, favorites
Nosaka is a master of making you think that maybe, just maybe, this won't be a story that yanks your still-beating heart from your chest and then, at that moment, doing so, just yanking it out. Over and over. Even when the story is not overtly about Allied fire bombings of civilians, it is and there you are, metaphorical blood pouring from your chest. The stories themselves are varied, from the viewpoint of a whale, children, US POW, etc and let me be clear, there are moments of such beauty here ...more
Diane Payne
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
All of the stories take place "The 15th of August 1945"--the day the Japanese surrendered, and all evoke a sense of surrender and loss. It's a good thing I like dark stories because these are dark stories. Children are starving, separated from their parents, and they survive by being with each other. The stories are fables, like the story about the whale that falls in love with a submarine, and you wonder what is real, what is imagined, and you see the horrors of war and hope for a glimmer of pe ...more
Moray Teale
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Aug 29, 2018
Linda Gratsounas
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Nov 14, 2018
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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