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Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Sputnik Sweetheart (1999)

by Haruki Murakami

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Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami is the twelfth of his eighteen published works that I have read to date. Two more beckon to me from a nearby shelf in my study. Obviously I am a fan.
Despite its complexity, I usually recommend Kafka on the Shore to those who have never read Murakami, because it is in my opinion his finest novel. I would now offer Sputnik Sweetheart as an alternative that is shorter, less convoluted and a much easier read yet still captures the quintessential Murakami. There is a passive, complacent male protagonist. There are well-drawn complicated female characters, in this case two of them. There are cats, or at least stories about cats. There is a passion for music, either jazz or classical. There is awkward sex and unrequited love. There is a sense of dark foreboding. There are puzzling circumstances. There is the author’s unique brand of magical realism that is trademark Murakami, although it is far less manifest in this 1999 work than it would be in Kafka on the Shore (2002) or 1Q84 (2010); still there remains a wisp of a hint of some kind of parallel universe that occasionally intersects with our own. And, in typical Murakami style, it closes with issues unresolved and questions that linger.
The title of the novel is derived from an ironic conflating of terms in an early conversation between fledgling young writer Sumire and a beautiful older woman named Miu, for whom Sumire develops a powerful lesbian attraction. Sumire brings up Jack Kerouac, which Miu comically and mistakenly places in the “sputnik” rather than the “beatnik” genre. The original Sputnik, of course, was actually the Soviet satellite that launched the Cold War space race in 1957, the year of my own birth. Sputnik is a Russian word meaning "satellite" that translates literally as "fellow traveler" and in the novel it serves as a larger metaphor with a dual significance.
I felt like I had read parts of Sputnik Sweetheart before, and it turns out that I had: certain ingredients of the novel were plucked from the pages of Murakami’s short story "Man-Eating Cats" that appeared in The New Yorker in 1991 – which ironically I had only very recently read as part of his short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. [For my review of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, see http://regarp.com/2015/05/17/review-of-blind-willow-sleeping-woman-by-haruki-mur... The novel is actually quite different from the short story, but the elements he incorporates are both striking and memorable. This is a much shorter and easier book to read than the novel that preceded it, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-95), or the one that followed it some seven years later, Kafka on the Shore, but it nevertheless remains as rich with complexity and nuance in its style and presentation. Since I have reviewed Murakami previously, I will not risk redundancy by restating my own personal love-hate relationship to the author based upon his brilliant prose and often frustrating lack of plot resolution. I will state unequivocally that this is one of Murakami’s best novels and one that I would highly recommend both to those who are veteran readers of his fiction and to those who are new to his work.

[NOTE: For the uninitiated, a free taste of Murakami -- his outstanding 2014 short story “Scheherazade” – is available online at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/13/scheherazade-3]

http://regarp.com/2015/05/30/review-of-sputnik-sweetheart-by-haruki-murakami/ ( )
  Garp83 | May 30, 2015 |
Excellent!! Haruki's work echo in my mind and heart his work is memorable...look forward to my next journey with his work. ( )
  stevetempo | Jul 19, 2014 |
Sputnik Sweetheart is one of Murakami's shorter novels but that does not mean it is any less odd than his longer novels.

The plot centres on three characters: K., Sumire, and Miu, who together form a sort of love triangle. When Sumire goes missing on holiday with Miu, K. discovers how little he knows about the girl he loves though on his return to his solitary life in Japan, out of nowhere, he receives a sudden call from Sumire. Yet, Murakami leaves much of the plot unresolved so the reader questions how much of the plot is objective and not just character perceptions.

This novel explores the nature of loneliness and whether one can truly know one's love or even themselves.

Perhaps one of Murakami's weaker novels; nevertheless, it was enjoyable and like Murakmai's other works, merits at least a second reading if not more. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
The characters are interesting, and the emotion to be transmitted is clear. After some paragraphs its hard not to smile or nod or just get nostalgic. Clueless about the ending, which I think leaves a very good aftertaste for what the book is. ( )
  facucas1 | May 9, 2014 |
This is a very Murakami novel. If you've ever read any of his others, you know you can expect awkward romantic situations, descriptions of the moon, phone calls, and disappearances. If you haven't read any Murakami, you might think knowing that going in will ruin some of the enjoyment, but that's not the case. The fun is really in how those elements unfold and work together. The male narrator is in love with his friend, Sumire, but she doesn't reciprocate his feelings. Sumire meets and falls in love with Miu, an older woman. Eventually, Sumire goes off on a trip with Miu, and disappears from a Greek isle. The narrator, K, tries to figure out what happened to her.

It's kind of like a metaphysical Sam Spade novel, if Sam Spade were in touch with his more sensitive side. It's also kind of like a novel-length short story, with its economy of word and feeling, and its reluctance to provide closure of all the loose ends. Murakami tends to leave some strings untied, but this one is like a loosely woven cloth where the ends on both sides are just floating free. If you're willing to accept that and arrive at your own conclusions, you'll enjoy this one. If not, maybe some Dashiell Hammett?

Recommended for: short story readers, fans of Alice in Wonderland.

Quote: "It made her think of Laika, the dog. 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, what could the dog possibly be looking at?" ( )
  ursula | Mar 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Haruki Murakamiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gabriel, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malinen, IlkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world's first man-made satellite, Sputnik I, from the Baikanor Space Center in the Republic of Kazahkstan. Sputnik was 58 centimeters in diameter, weighed 83.6 kilograms, and orbitted the earth in 96 minutes and 12 seconds.
  On November 3 of the same year , Sputnik II was successfully launched, with the dog Laika aboard. Laika became the first living being to leave the earth's atmosphere, but the satellite was never recovered, and Laika ended up sacrificed for the sake of biological research in space.

-From The Complete Chronicle of World History
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In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375726055, Paperback)

Sputnik Sweetheart finds Haruki Murakami in his minimalist mode. Shorter than the sweeping Wind-up Bird Chronicle, less playfully bizarre than A Wild Sheep Chase, the author's seventh novel distills his signature themes into a powerful story about the loneliness of the human condition. "There was nothing solid we could depend on," the reader is told. "We were nearly boundless zeros, just pitiful little beings swept from one kind of oblivion to another."

The narrator is a teacher whose only close friend is Sumire, an aspiring young novelist with chronic writer's block. Sumire is suddenly smitten with a sophisticated businesswoman and accompanies her love object to Europe where, on a tiny Greek island, she disappears "like smoke." The schoolteacher hastens to the island in search of his friend. And there he discovers two documents on her computer, one of which reveals a chilling secret about Sumire's lover.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a melancholy love story, and its deceptively simple prose is saturated with sadness. Characters struggle to connect with one another but never quite succeed. Like the satellite of the title they are essentially alone. And by toning down the pyrotechnics of his earlier work, Murakami has created a world that is simultaneously mundane and disturbing--where doppelgängers and vanishing cats produce a pervasive atmosphere of alienation, and identity itself seems like a terribly fragile thing. --Simon Leake

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:35 -0400)

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The scenario is as simple as it is uncomfortable: a college student falls in love (once and for all, despite everything that transpires afterward) with a classmate whose devotion to Kerouac and an untidy writerly life precludes any personal commitments--until she meets a considerably older and far more sophisticated businesswoman. It is through this wormhole that she enters Murakami's surreal yet humane universe, to which she serves as guide both for us and for her frustrated suitor, now a teacher. In the course of her travels from parochial Japan through Europe and ultimately to an island off the coast of Greece, she disappears without a trace, leaving only lineaments of her fate: computer accounts of bizarre events and stories within stories. The teacher, summoned to assist in the search for her, experiences his own ominous, haunting visions, which lead him nowhere but home to Japan--and there, under the expanse of deep space and the still-orbiting Sputnik, he finally achieves a true understanding of his beloved.… (more)

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