In the spring of her 22nd year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life.
An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains – flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits. The tornado’s intensity doesn’t abate for a second as it blasts across the ocean, laying waste to Angkor Wat, incinerating an Indian jungle, tigers and all, transforming itself into a Persian desert sandstorm, burying an exotic fortress city under a sea of sand. In short, a love of truly monumental proportions.
The person Sumire (Violet, in Japanese) fell in love with was a 17-year-old senior woman, named Miu. Multilingual, well-dressed and refined, and drives a 12-cylinder navy-blue Jaguar.
The first time Sumire met Miu, she talked to her about Jack Kerouac’s novels. Sumire was crazy about Kerouac. She always had her literary Idol of the Month, and she carried a dog-eared copy of On the Road (a book that sat too long on my TBR and I had to return it to the library), thumbing through it every chance she got. Kerouac spent three lonely months in a cabin on top of a high mountain, working as a fire lookout. Sumire especially liked this saying from the book:
“No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.”
The story is narrated in first person named K, who is Sumire’s best friend and in love with Sumire. Sumire spend hours talking on the phone to K telling him about her feelings about big questions in life: what is sexual desire and should she ever tell Miu how she feels about her.
Frustrated K vent out by having several partners, never one that made him felt fulfilled. Sumire now works for Miu and globe trotting around the world. Just when K is getting used to being without Sumire, one day he received a phone call from Miu in Greek Island to say that something very strange has happened to Sumire.
The book title is Sumire’s private name for Miu, because it reminded her of Laika, the dog which is sacrificed and drifted out into the outerspace in Sputnik II, and became the first living being to leave the earth’s atmosphere. The scientist never recovered the satellite. As I imagined Laika in the man-made satellite streaking soundlessly across the blackness of outer space. The dark, lustrous eyes of the dog gazing out the tiny window, in the infinite loneliness of space, my heart began to weep……..
This novel entice us to the deeper recesses of the soul and mind of the characters. From K, I know that he feels this:
Any number of times I’ve seen people who say they’re easily hurt or hurt other people for no apparent reason. Self-styled honest and open people, without realising what they’re doing, blithely use some self-serving excuse to get what they want. And those who are “good at sensing others’ true feelings” are taken in by the most transparent flattery. It’s enough to make me ask the question: how well do we really know ourselves?
The more I think about it, the more I’d like to take a rain check on the topic of me. What I’d like to know more about is the objectives reality of things outside myself. How important the world outside is to me, how I maintain a sense of equilibrium by coming to terms with it. That’s how I’d grasp a clearer sense of who I am.
The upshot of all this is that when I was younger I began to draw an invisible boundary between myself and other people. No matter who I was dealing with. I maintained a set distance, carefully monitoring the person’s attitude so that they wouldn’t get any closer. I didn’t easily swallow what other people told me. My only passion were books and music. As you might guess, I led a lonely life. (page 60).
How he feels for Sumire in the deepest level:
We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our life. Like a small flame. A careful, fortunate few cherish that flame, nurture it, hold it as a torch to light their way. But once that flame goes out, it’s gone forever. What I’d lost was not just Sumire. I’d lost that precious flame. (Page 194)
How Miu feels about her life:
So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that’s stolen from us – that’s snatched right out of our hands – even if we are left completely changed people with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continues to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness. (page 225)
It is a good read, as all Murakami’s books are. The story started off very well but I felt let down when the familiar insinuation about cats and missing person appears on the pages towards the middle of the book. I felt as if I have been led down the same path as Murakami’s pervious novels. I was expecting to see a different side of Murakami, this being the first romantic novel of his. K’s affair with his girlfriend and his heart-to-heart talk to his girlfriend’s son (K’s student), was an unnecessary abberation, I feel.
However what blew me away was the Murakami’s trademark of providing a profound and soul searching rhetoric about un-reciprocal love, young budding love and emptiness experience in contemporary life, which really struck a chord with me,that in the end:
Without any fuss, then I gave up worrying about the difference between knowing and not knowing. That became my point of departure. A terrible place to start, perhaps – but people need a makeshift springboard, right? All of which goes to explain how I started seeing dualisms such as theme and style, object and subject, cause and effect, the joins of my hand and the rest of me, not as black –and-white pairs, but as indistinguishable one from the other. (page 146)
And read Murakami’s surreal construct of his characters and storyline, without judgement, without prejudice and come out of it feeling redeemed.
I am reading this for J-Lit Challenge 4.
Paperback. Publisher: Vintage Books 2002; Length: 229 pages; Setting: Japan. Source: Library. Finished reading at: 29 July 2010.