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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Whale That Fell In Love With A Submarine
by Akiyuki Nosaka
Age Range: 9-11
Originally published in Japan in 2003, The Whale that Fell in Love with a Submarine is the first English translation of a collection of seven stories written for children by Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka. Each story takes place, on the 15th of August, 1945 – the day Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender ending the Second World War – and deals with the effects of conflict on both civilians and soldiers.
Most of the tales are tragic and at times hard to read as Nosaka captures the hopelessness and horror in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the title story, ‘The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine’, a lonely whale searches the ocean for a mate sacrificing himself when he mistakes a Japanese submarine for a female of his species. And so the tone is set for more heart-wrenching stories to follow that include:
'The Parrot and the Boy', about a boy and a parrot who are the only survivors of their bombed out town living in an air-raid; 'The Old She-Wolf and the Little Girl', where an old and dying wolf finds a young child abandoned by refugees flooding out of Manchuria and tries to take care of her; in 'The Mother That Turned into a Kite' a mother desperate to keep her son alive by hydrating him with her tears; 'The Red Dragonfly and the Cockroach', tells the story of a young kamikaze pilot who takes his insect 'friend' the cockroach on a last and final mission and 'The Prisoner of War and in the Little Girl', an escaped POW and an orphan girl who live in an abandoned tunnel shelter in the mountainside as they await the end of the war together. It is really only the final story, 'The Cake Tree in the Ruins', that has any glimmer of hope as a group of children discover a strange tree sprouting from the ashes of a burnt-out home with leaves that taste like cake while the grown-ups pass by without even noticing it.
These profoundly moving stories express the chaos and terror of conflict, yet also how love can illuminate even the darkest moments. While the language used is simple, with a smooth translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori, the mood is sombre. The black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations by Mika Provata-Carlone add further solemnity to the narration.
Nosaka touches on the futility of war while focusing on the hardship felt by the innocent victims caught up in it. These stories provide an important poignant message, however unpalatable at times – stories that need to be told.