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Fiction

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

“Understanding is but the sum of our misunderstandings.”

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)

Rating: 4.5/5

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.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

  1. The ‘romantic’ novels are just as bizarre as his others; only ‘Norwegian Wood’ has both feet rooted to the ground 😉 I liked this book, but I also felt that it lost its way a little towards the end. There is a also a slight feeling of deja vu with the themes (this book, ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘South of the Border…’ rely heavily on nostalgia).

    Posted by Tony | August 7, 2010, 12:04 pm
  2. This sounds wonderful, from the quotes you have posted, even if the plot was disappointing for you. Good prose is worth it sometimes! Thanks for letting us know about this book!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | August 7, 2010, 1:17 pm
  3. Lovely review JoV! The title of the book ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’ is so beautiful! I haven’t read a full Murakami book till now (have read excerpts here and there) and so I think it is time for me to start reading one. I will add this to my ‘TBR’ list.

    Posted by Vishy | August 7, 2010, 4:34 pm
    • hi Vishy, it is indeed beautiful. If you knew what happened to Sputnik II, you will understand the beautiful sadness that goes with the storyline of this book. Oh Please pick up Murakami ASAP!!! I really like to hear what you think about Murakami. 😉

      Posted by JoV | August 7, 2010, 8:08 pm
  4. I often feel disappointed with the ending of Murakami’s novels too. But I guess the rest of them are still so good that I keep reading :). For romantic novel about soul-searching young un-reciprocal love, Norwegian Wood is on top of the leader board, still my favorite Murakami and one of my favorite books of all time!

    Posted by mee | August 8, 2010, 11:38 pm
    • @Mee, I suppose similar to a lot of things in real life, not everything has a good ending. I tend to remember bad ending rather than good ones, not sure what it says about me?
      You are the 10th or 100th people that says Norwegian Wood is good, I hope it won’t jinx my reading experience of the book because I do want to leave it till last to savour it! 😉

      Posted by JoV | August 9, 2010, 8:23 am
  5. I really enjoyed your review a lot-this is one of my favorite of his novels

    Posted by Mel u | August 26, 2010, 2:23 am
    • Hi Mel, thanks! Have you read Norwegian Wood? I plan to read South of the Border, West of the Sun (another Murakami romance) and round it up with Norwegian Wood. 😉

      Posted by JoV | August 26, 2010, 8:51 pm
  6. I love the quotes you’ve chosen.
    this is one of my favorite books by Murakami. I don’t usually go for love story but this one is a different level of love story.
    Great review by the way,i really enjoy reading it

    Posted by Novroz | January 1, 2011, 1:15 pm
    • Thanks Novroz. I think Murakami scores better in love story. I can’t wait to read Norwegian Wood! 😉

      Posted by JoV | January 1, 2011, 10:11 pm
      • Thank you for your reviews on Murakami, I enjoyed reading another persons view on his works. I have read most of his ‘translated to English’ work and enjoyed them all to varying degrees, I think Kafka was the best, maybe followed by Dance Dance Dance, youve probably read Norweigan Wood by now and I look forward to your review; by the way his book on long distance running is also a good read…..unsurprisingly!

        Posted by carl | January 6, 2011, 7:58 pm
  7. Carl, thank you for dropping by! You would be surprised. I haven’t read Norwegian Wood yet. Yup, not yet. I have been saving the best for the last and I hope once the expectation is set so high, I won’t be disappointed. 🙂

    The film in Japanese is out now and will be here in the UK this March. Fingers crossed I will play catch up and win. 😀 I too intend to read all his back list. Just one of those super amazing, rare intriguing writer, Murakami that he is.

    Posted by JoV | January 6, 2011, 10:42 pm
  8. I am reading this right now but it does confuse me. I have afeeling I have read something very similar before but don’t know who wrote it. It was not Murakami. A bit frustratiing and unfair to the author as I think i would like it very much otherways. I like your review and the quotes you chose.

    Posted by Caroline | February 25, 2011, 2:10 pm
    • Caroline, I kind of like the book. Can be confusing, like all Murakami’s books do. Wind my head up the wrong way actually, but it is certainly food for thought. When I read Murakami’s books, I don’t place too much reliance on the plot line but in the way he describes lost soul and their personal woes, which I thought no one does it as good as he did. 😉

      Posted by JoV | February 26, 2011, 11:39 am
  9. This book made me super curious, left me in question. I think I should re-read this, I don’t know if Sumire was still alive, or it was just K’s imagination. What I love about Murakami’s works is his tenderness in expressing characters, or situations. Delicate.

    Btw Jov, do you have twitter? I’d love to keep updates to your posts/reviews via Twitter :’)

    Posted by Puspa | October 19, 2011, 5:10 pm

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  1. Pingback: Hello Japan! November mini-challenge: Five Questions (a Japan meme) « Bibliojunkie - November 8, 2010

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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