The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine


Special To The Japan Times

Akiyuki Nosaka (1930-2015), was a man of many parts, variously a singer, lyricist, comedian and politician as well as a novelist and short story writer. His diverse successes in later life however betrayed an extraordinarily traumatic youth that saw his mother die soon after birth, his adoptive father killed in a wartime air raid and a sister starve to death in an evacuation camp.

The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine, by Akiyuki Nosaka, Translated by Ginney Tapley Takemori.
192 pages
Pushkin Children’s Books, Fiction.

In “The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine” Nosaka’s hauntingly sad and beautiful stories — ably translated by Ginney Tapley Takemori and illustrated by Mika Provata-Carlone — remind us of the full tragedy of World War II. Each tale takes place on Aug. 15, 1945, the day the emperor announced defeat. In the title story, a whale saves a submarine crew from pointlessly laying down their lives, while in another story, a mother attempts to soothe her infant son’s burning face during an air raid by using the sweat from her body.

You wonder slightly about this being released in English as a “children’s book.” Originally entitled “War Fairy Tales,” Nosaka appears to be working in the tradition of writers such as Kenji Miyazawa and Masuji Ibuse, penning childlike tales that contain piercing truths that cry out for a wide adult readership.

The fairy-tale format serves to highlight the misery and disaster imposed upon the innocent. In the final uplifting tale, Nosaka also reveals that it is in the vision and imagination of youth that he placed his hopes for redeeming the follies of the past.