BOOK REVIEW: The Cake Tree in the Ruins

By Akiyuki Nosaka

Too many undernourished people and animals appear in these stories, I know, but it was wartime, after all.”

CAKE TREE IN RUINS COVEREvery 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 starved to death) – and has been translated into English by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

These dark but inventive tales emphasize the hideous realities of war. From a heart-rending story in which a lonely Sardine Whale falls tragically in love with a submarine, to the narrative of a mother desperately trying to save her son’s life with her tears, we are reminded that war is cruel and ugly, and should never be glorified.

There are no happily ever afters in this short book, merely a series of simply-told stories suffused with immense suffering, profound sadness and startling beauty.

Released in Britain on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender, this grim garland is part of the Pushkin Collection, which specialises in publishing masterworks from around the world in aesthetically appealing covers.

Many thanks to Pushkin Press for providing a review copy of this title.

Categories: Translated Literature

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23 replies

  1. Sounds like a sad but powerful read.

  2. This sounds like an extraordinary collection. Wonderful review!

  3. Wow, Paula, I would not want to miss this. I added it to my wishlist. I hope your week has been relaxing and everything you want it to be. ♥️

    • Thank you, Jennifer. I’m being very lazy but it’s wonderfully relaxing. The internet is rather hit and miss, I’m afraid. How are things with you? Is there much left of your garden? Has the rain passed? Questions, questions! 🐱💙🤗

      • I’m happy you are enjoying the downtime, Paula. It sounds like a dreamy vacation to me! I am sorry to hear about the internet. This week blew by. It took a while for my dad to get home to the coast and quite a harrowing journey at that. He should have waited to go home until the roads were clear, and he didn’t know just how bad things were (now he does). Yes, the rain has passed thank goodness, though we are expecting more each day this weekend and onward. I hope it doesn’t affect those still trying to recover (some rivers are not cresting until early next week, so more damage is expected. 😞). We are well, though, and my plants that were out are pretty shaken up. I took two of the ones I use the most for pics into the garage and many of their buds were knocked off in the process, so I’m not sure how much more I’ll get from them before fall. All our trees that bloom (crepe myrtles) lost all their flowers. The rose bush in front seems happy though, so roses it might be for pics! We still have tree limbs and debris to pick up in the yard this weekend. All in all, though, we fared so much better than most in my state with all the flooding, so we are grateful. Thank you for asking me, and you received a very detailed answer. 😂 ♥️ Enjoy each day of your trip! So special! 🏖

      • So it isn’t quite over yet. I’m pleased to hear you are safe and your dad is back in his home. It’s a great pity about your lovely trees. I hope the hummingbirds find flowers on which to feed. I can usually pick up the Internet when I’m on the beach but mostly not at the apartment.

      • The hummers definitely need their flowers, but we also have a feeder up. They have been giving us lots of entertainment since they came out of hiding from the storm. They have been fighting a bit over the feeder; it’s almost like sword fighting with their beaks. Thankfully, it’s not violent and is mostly just them chasing each other and chirping! (I love their special chirps!) Aww, internet only at the beach when you probably aren’t as inclined to use it!

      • I might know you would be taking good care of your hummers, Jennifer. I would love to see them doing battle with their beaks. Let’s hope things start to return to normal before too long. Although, I suspect there is going to be a massive clean-up exercise for some time to come! 🌱🌺💙

      • Sorry, I hit send before including emojis! 😄💙🐾🐿

      • Thank you for those! ♥️ 🐦 🏖 🌊 🏝

  4. Sounds like it will be a powerful, but heartbreak read.

  5. This sounds like a very difficult book to read, but one that needs to be read. I think everyone forgets about the people in Japan who suffered terribly due to the was as well.

  6. Great review 😍

  7. Pushkin Press are so reliable – everything the publish looks interesting! This sounds so powerful. I really like the cover too 🙂

  8. Aaaah, you tempt me greatly, depressing though it sounds. Many, many years ago, I wrote my BA thesis on representations of the war in post-war Japanese fiction, and I still have a bit of an obsession with the topic.


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