Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart

by Haruki Murakami

Knopf

“•don’t pointless things have a place, too, in this far from perfect world? Remove everything pointless from an imperfect life, and it’d even lose its imperfection.” (4)

Only a few pages into Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami touches on a theme that he will return to again and again in this powerful and evocative novel. Comprised of several overlapping themes or ideas, it is in part a detective novel, in part a meditation on the nature of love and longing, and finally, in part a reflection on the long held myth that suffering and experience play in the creation of great art. The story centers on Sumire, a young aspiring novelist, wholly preoccupied with the writings of Jack Kerouac, but who remains unable to ever complete anything she writes. Her mind remains over crowded with ideas and images, narrative points and incidents that occur so fast and seem so important that her words and ideas are drowned in this unmitigated sea of details. Reflecting on this, the narrator advises her to “spill some blood.” Or, as he states, “A story is not something of this world. A real story requires a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side with the world on the other side” (16). Writing, divorced from the world of experience, becomes one-dimensional. It is merely an exercise in solipsism and not true art. As the story builds, it becomes apparent that Sumire will earn her chance to create great art when she falls in love.

To run the gauntlet of unrequited love is to experience the whole range of human emotions. The pendulum swings from joy and hope to grief, longing and self-loathing. A lifetime of emotions compressed into a brief period of time measured in months of even days. This is the crucible that Sumire enters when she unexpectedly falls in love with Miu, a woman seventeen years older than her. Meeting at a wedding reception, Sumire and Miu strike up a conversation that ultimately turns toward the topic of work. Miu runs a lucrative wine import business and offers Sumire employment. Sumire accepts and the die is cast! The novel gradually and inexorably leads to its culmination. Sumire confesses her love for Miu and is rebuffed. Afterwards, Sumire disappears, and it is up to the narrator to trace her steps and determine what has happened to her.

Without giving too much away, the latter half of the novel contains some of Murakami’s most evocative and reflective prose on the nature of loves lost and desire. Just as Miu spurned Sumire, so too did Sumire not recognize the love the narrator had for her. This bizarre love triangle leads the narrator to reflect on his relationship with Sumire and make decisions that would affect his life as well. As he states towards the conclusion of the novel: “You know what I’d really like to do the most right now? Climb up the to top of some high place like the pyramids. The highest place I can find. Where you can see forever. Stand on the very top, look all around the world, see all the scenery, and see with my own eyes what’s been lost from the world. I don’t know• maybe I really don’t want to see that. Maybe I don•t want to see anything anymore” (193).

What has been lost and what has been gained all depends upon your vantage point. The novel concludes with a sense of resolution but what that entails, well, you will have to find out for yourself.

This is a splendid novel from a writer I have only recently come across. The prose is effortless and the style reminds me of Kundera or Vonnegut, these are novelists who can beguile and captivate you effortlessly and communicate intoxicating ideas with the least effort. If you are looking for something to read this summer, you surely will not be disappointed with Sputnik Sweetheart.

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