Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami: Book Review

sputnik sweetheart haruki murakami book reviewVintage / Haruki Murakami
Sputnik Sweetheart Book Cover Sputnik Sweetheart
Haruki Murakami
Magical Realism, Romance, Fantasy
Vintage International
April 9, 2002

Sumire is in love with a woman seventeen years her senior. But whereas Miu is glamorous and successful, Sumire is an aspiring writer who dresses in an oversized second-hand coat and heavy boots like a character in a Kerouac novel.

Sumire spends hours on the phone talking to her best friend K about the big questions in life: what is sexual desire, and should she ever tell Miu how she feels for her? Meanwhile K wonders whether he should confess his own unrequited love for Sumire.

Then, a desperate Miu calls from a small Greek island: Sumire has mysteriously vanished...

Now that I have finally gotten around to catching up on books from last month’s TBR, I can’t even begin to express how much I missed reading books written by Haruki Murakami. For a long time now he has been one of my favorite authors. Not only does he write in a way that is unique, yet incredibly beautiful, but he talks about a lot of serious issues. Questions of identity and emotion often come up in his novels in the strangest of ways that challenge you to think outside the box about many of the issues present in society today.

As soon as I finished the abstract and incredibly thought-provoking, Kafka on the Shore, I immediately started this month’s Murakami pick, Sputnik Sweetheart. Initially, I was drawn to the idea that this book would focus on romance, something that is often only hinted at in Murakami’s works. I went in expecting a love triangle and ended up reading heartrendingly beautiful passages about love, desire, and loneliness that made me love Murakami even more.

This review contains spoilers and quotes from the book.

To fans of Murakami’s work, Sputnik Sweetheart might seem a little different at first glance. Instead of immediately being introduced to the narrator and main character of the novel, Murakami sets the tone by instead introducing the reader to the narrator’s best friend and love interest, Sumire. In fact, the narrator, K, is not introduced formally until the fifth chapter of the book. Interestingly enough, this change of pace actually says a lot about the novel in general concerning notions of identity, a theme that is present throughout the novel.

When I wrote my review of Kafka on the Shore, I mentioned the idea that the entire book is a metaphor because we are able to find meaning in everything in life. The same goes for notions of identity. Our own identities are shaped by a number of influences, both internal and external. As such, it is hard to accurately describe ourselves – we aren’t always honest about who we are. Furthermore, our perceptions of ourselves change depending on a number of factors, an idea that is brought up by K.

I find it hard to talk about myself. I’m always tripped up by the eternal who am I? paradox. Sure, no one knows as much pure data about me as me. But when I talk about myself, all sorts of other factors – values, standards, my own limitations as an observer – make me, the narrator, select and eliminate things about me, the narratee. I’ve always been disturbed by the thought that I’m not painting a very objective picture of myself.

Throughout the story, the reader is presented with a number of transformations in identity and personal awareness. Often, the characters experience changes that alter their appearance and slowly, their identity, without knowing how to describe the reality of the situation. Much like in everyday life, we might find ourselves struggling with our own experiences and how they alter our reality. As situations and circumstances around us change, so too, do our identities. Life events, such as relationships, careers, and lifestyle changes slowly alter who we are and how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us.

Through K, Sumire, and her eventual love interest, Miu, Murakami weave a hauntingly beautiful story about love and loss and the effect that it has on individual identity. Throughout the novel, the reader experiences the joys, expectations, and pain that come with falling in love.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a story about Sumire. Originally an aspiring, but struggling writer, Sumire meets K when they are in college. As both of them love reading, they instantly connect and become very close friends. Sumire and K have a bond that is unbreakable. Although K is in love with Sumire and longs to be with her, she does not feel the same about him. Despite this, they maintain a strong bond that explains the depth of what true friendship feels like. Things get more complicated when Sumire meets a successful, yet mysterious woman named Miu. Instantly, a connection forms between them and Sumire finds herself falling in love for the first time. Despite the new strain on their relationship, Sumire and K continue their friendship, while Sumire pursues Miu. Through it all, we see transformations in character as a result of emotional distress and change in relationships.

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.

The immense sense of pain and longing that come along with love are described in perfect detail. Murakami manages to craft beautiful sentences that move the reader. Through his descriptions, emotions are laid bare. As you read through his passages that describe the pain of rejection, you find yourself experiencing the same emotions of the characters. Taking from K’s description of Sumire’s style of writing, the reader recognizes his description as a trait that describes Murakami’s writing perfectly.

Your writing has the living, breathing force of something natural flowing through it.

From the beginning, Sputnik Sweetheart feels entirely different from every other Murakami novel that I have read so far. The reader is given a detailed account of the relationship between Sumire and K. In fact, we know everything about Sumire and how she transforms as a result of her relationship with Miu. As the story unfolds, however, elements of surreal fantasy begin to emerge concerning Sumire and Miu. Through travels, we learn about Miu’s mysterious past as well as Sumire’s unexpected disappearance. At once, the novel transforms from a story of unrequited love from two different perspectives to a mystery that will have you wondering what happened and why.

At the same time, the emotional passages are captivating and beautiful. Incredibly relatable, Murakami captures what it means to be in love and it’s wonderful. Whether it be describing the feeling of love toward a romantic interest or that of a close friend and companion, Sputnik Sweetheart is worth reading just for the descriptions of love and relationships alone – they’re absolutely incredible.

When I couldn’t see you anymore, I realized that. It was as clear as if the planets all of a sudden lined up in a row for me. I really need you. You’re a part of me; I’m a part of you.

From the very beginning, Sputnik Sweetheart grabs your attention and holds it. At first, emotion drives you forward, but as the perspective of the novel changes, you find yourself interested in the surreal and haunting mysteries that Murakami presents. Do Miu and Sumire ever have a relationship? What about Sumire and K? What happened to Miu in the past that has caused her to give up everything? Where did Sumire go?

Just like all of Murakami’s other works, Sputnik Sweetheart is a captivating and enjoyable read that will have you reading long into the night. Not to mention it’s relatively short – you won’t stop until you reach the very end.

Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.