Some books you read because they come with friendly and familial recommendations. Some, find their way to you in an impulsive moment and languish in the dark corners of your gargantuan carry-all until one evening when you finally do sit down to read them. You end up wishing you had only done so earlier.
Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart is one such book. No matter when or how you lay your eyes on it, your only regret if any would be the time you lost in discovering this masterpiece.
Murakami is no story-teller; instead, he lets his characters spin their own tales. And therein lies his genius. Murakami’s characters are ripped from everyday reality and there is much mundane-ness to them that one cannot but help feel a sense of connection. There is the narrator K, whose name is as lost as he himself. There is Sumire, an aspiring writer who worries that her words will never be complete.
And then there is Miu, smart and polished and keeper of a deep dark secret. The plot follows a pretty linear narration, to begin with. K is in love with Sumire, and the first half of the book is a vivid description of Sumire as seen through K’s eyes. Her flaws, her blessings, the entirety of her being is captured in a loving light without sounding like a eulogy. Sumire is a person, living and breathing, and when she calls K in the wee hours of the morning to discuss questions on love and life, you know those questions have haunted you too.
Sumire then meets and falls in love with Miu, a socialite, and businesswoman. Miu is all that Sumire wishes to be and very soon Sumire is found aping her. A change that K describes as ‘putting oneself in a fictional framework’. Sexually drawn to the beautiful Miu, Sumire follows her halfway across the globe, only to find herself changed in ways she cannot comprehend. She seeks satisfaction and finally admits her desires to Miu, but Miu won’t or rather, cannot reciprocate. Something happened in her past that has left her half a person and as Sumire learns this secret, she makes up her mind to find the other half of her lover leading to an unexpected and chilling finale.
Like many of Murakami’s other books, Sputnik Sweetheart explores the theme of loss and alienation. The loss of self, the sense of alienation one faces in the face of complete and utter loneliness, and the dualities in our lives that when admitted to, leave us fractured into irreconcilable pieces. His characters all search for the proverbial El Dorado, only in this case the city they are looking for is a place where they are allowed to be themselves without any inhibitions, without any pretensions.
Murakami’s prose is allegorical, almost poetic, with meanings he leaves open to his reader’s interpretation. And the mystical eeriness of his imagination is haunting if nothing else.
There are a few good reasons to read the Sputnik Sweetheart – the lyrical prose, the enduring themes, the way you are bound to remember it long after it’s over. But the most important reason is that it lets you have hope; the hope that on reading about contemporary characters who mirror our own loneliness and loss, we might end up finding a tiny piece of ourselves.