Review: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge)

I just finished reading Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami as part of the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge hosted by Murakamichallenge.blogspot.com.

I will admit, I knew absolutely nothing about this author and I am NOT a huge fan of Asian literature except for the more popular/mainstream Asian fiction books like Memoirs of a Geisha and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

When I saw this reading challenge I decided to join because the author sounded intriguing and from what I read, his books sounded like something that would be right up my alley. I am a huge film/literary noir, hardboiled, and avant-garde fan and from what I read about Haruki Murakami (HM), his books have many of these themes. HM’s books focus on surreal, mystical, post modern ideals of loneliness and isolation.

When I decided to join the challenge I went with the list of options–reading one book by HM as I was not sure what to expect and I’ll be honest I have to be in a ‘mood’ to read some of the darker, heavier books and most of HM’s books seemed heavy.

I choose Sputnik Sweetheart for the challenge because it sounded like I could relate to the main character the most out of all his other books. While the story WAS far from light, it was very beautiful–the language was very lyrical and poetic which helped relieve some of the heavy content. The story follows protagonist Sumire, a young aspiring writer who falls in love with her older friend Miu. Though much of the book is based on this love story, it is more about self discovery, isolation, and loneliness.

I really liked Sumire’s character and could easily relate to her, she doesn’t quite fit in with traditional expectations but clearly she wants that but just doesn’t know how to bridge that gap between want and reality. She loves to write…..about anything, everything, and nothing. She is one of the few characters that I have read and really felt like I KNEW how she felt, like I was reading ME at times and HM describes it all so wonderfully….in a way I could never describe in such a short book LOL :). Sumire just draws you in throughout the book.

The story itself is told from a man’s point of view (POV), Sumire’s friend who we know only as K which initially bothered me because Sumire is a lesbian and I think it’s difficult for not only a male author but also a male POV to connect and identify with a lesbian female but in the end HM did a great job.

K is very much in love with Sumire. He is attracted to her spirit and her passion as well as her eccentricities but she does not feel the same. At a wedding Sumire meets a woman, Miu who is older and married. Sumire is attracted to Miu because she is confident and elegant….Sumire begins working for Miu and while traveling abroad together for their job, they become romantically involved. Miu rejects Sumire who is unable to deal with the rejection, suddenly disappears. Miu summons K to look for her, though they never find her they find closer in a spiritual understanding about what happened to her. This is one of those books that is hard to put into works and describe, I could literally analyze myself into a cluster……the words trapped inside my mind with no hope of EVER coming out onto paper in a way that would make sense but yet I understand the story perfectly.

All I can say is you just have to read this book….once you read it you will understand perfectly what I mean :).

Sumire is constantly trapped in her own mind, her own world with no one around her who really understood her and even though she was able to articulate herself through writing….no one could decipher what it was she was trying to say exactly and that can be very alienating. The story follows this same kind of thinking….what it’s like to be alienated from everyone you know because no one can or wants to understand you….no one who you can identify with no one you can talk to, no one to interact with except the thoughts that come out in one scrambled signal that only you have the antenna to. It IS very lonely but eventually someone tunes into your station and like Sumire you find someone who ‘gets’ you. Sumire’s problem is that she found the ‘right’ someone in her mind but Miu was not REALLY the right someone for her.

Miu represents everything that Sumire wishes she could be….her doppelganger. The concept of everyone having a doppelganger is a very dominant theme in this book and one of my over all favorite literary tools–I LOVE LOVE LOVE books or characters that have a doppelganger! It’s a great literary tool, it bridges two different people and themes into one….a complex tool but GREAT if used correctly as it is in this book.

There is a huge focus on getting to ‘the other side’, not necessarily dying but getting to an alternative state of mind or ‘place’ where one can find the other half of themselves….finding their missing doppelganger, merging the ‘twins’ to be a whole person again. For example, Miu became ‘seperated’ from her whole self when she was in her late teens and spent the rest of her life empty….missing a part of herself that was lost. That is why she cannot love Sumire or even desire her….Miu herself is not ‘whole’ and thus cannot give herself to Sumire. Sumire also talks about her missing ‘twin’ like Miu she herself feels separated from the world in which she lives but she hopes to find that missing half in Miu. When she doesn’t she more or less goes in search of a way to merge the two Miu’s together so the whole Miu can love her and thus relieve her own loneliness. Sumire disappears and though we don’t know what happens to her it is implied that she made it ‘to the other side’ and was hopefully finding love with Miu’s other spirit.

HM describes the feeling of isolation and existing together in two very different worlds beautifully…..Sumire calls Miu her Sputnik Sweetheart because of a private joke between the two but there is another meaning which HM implies with this name. Sputnik is the name of the Russian spaceship which first went out into space orbiting around the Earth (Earth being the constant)….but though the first Sputnik is floating around the Earth it isn’t anything but an empty bit of metal. Later launched another Sputnik mission this time with a dog aboard–Laika. Laika was the first animal to orbit the Earth and also the first causality of space travel as she died upon entering the atmosphere. HM reflects in the book about why a dog would be sent into space….what is it looking at??? Why?? What can a dog do in space?? And he notes the dog again is all alone….even though its orbiting the Earth and accompanying the Sputnik craft…it’s all alone. HM describes this feeling in a beautifully phrased metaphor:

And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing (116).

This book has SO many wonderfully phrased metaphors and moments of reflection. Linguistically it is lyrical and poetic…..the language is musical in your earns. It is a spellbinding story and in reality it is a basic, normal, boring, ‘been there done that’ story….but the way in which HM tells it make it absolutely unique and elegant. A real treat for readers!

This is one of those books you have to read at least once in your life….it is too beautiful and haunting to NOT read it. I thought the language would be difficult because it’s been translated from Japanese but the translation does not make it hard to understand or dry….it still flows well and really it is not a ‘cultural’ book meaning any culture or race would identify with it…the characters are ‘generic’ enough as well as the story that it could be ANY reader from ANYWHERE which makes it appealing. You simply MUST read this book…..

As I said before….mystical, hard boiled, dark, nostalgic, surreal, doppelgangers, poetic, deconstructive, literary noir……all things right up my alley and favorites in my kind of books!! Words (especially mine LOL….even if I fill ten pages!!!) cannot describe how complex and rich this novel is….it really is a diamond in the rough.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

  • ebook, 227 pages
  • Published May 22nd 2001 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published 1999)
  • ISBN 0375413464 (ISBN13: 9780375413469)

This book counts toward: 2011 Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 (One of the most amazing books I’ve read…..READ IT you simply MUST)

Genre: Literary noir, post modern, ‘hardboiled’, avant garde, isolation fiction, contempo lit

Memorable lines/quotes: 

Sometimes I feel so- I don’t know – lonely. The kind of helpless feeling when everything you’re used to has been ripped away. Like there’s no more gravity, and I’m left to drift in outer space with no idea where I’m going

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4 Comments

  1. Hi! I just found your blog via the 2011 Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge. I also read my first Murakami book–just recently, in fact, and plan on joining the challenge again for 2012. I read his collection of short stories titled after the quake. It was a nice sample, but I want to read something more substantial next time around. Sputnik Sweetheart was originally going to be my pick, but I needed something shorter to finish by Dec. 31, so opted for the short stories. I’m SO glad to have come across your review, because now I’m sure Sputnik Sweetheart should be my next Murakami novel.

    LOve your header graphic, btw!

    Wishing you a wonderful year of reading in 2012! Cheers! 🙂

    Reply
    • I am so glad you found my blog and welcome! 🙂
      I am thinking about entering the Murakami challenge again for 2012 since I want to read IQ84….
      Sputnik Sweetheart was so beautiful and intriguing, it really spoke to me as a novel and I would highly recommend it! It was one of the best I’ve read in 2011.

      Thanks for the header compliments 🙂 Parajunkie Designs did it and I LOVE IT, she is so talented! Cheers and Happy New Year!

      Reply
  2. Nads

     /  December 25, 2013

    I just read Sputnik. I found it utterly depressing. Made me profoundly sad.
    I’m wondering… Why do you think Miu decided to take Sumire under her wing? I can’t resolve why she imposed a structured lifestyle upon her and requested she learn Italian. Why not French? What was the point?

    Reply
  1. The Lit Bitch’s Year in Literature Wrap Up 2011 « The Lit Bitch

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