This was my first Murakami novel and…. let’s just say it was long overdue. I’d heard some great things about his work and quotes from his novels, these words which felt unique, personal and heartfelt made me all the more curious to see if this internationally acclaimed, idiosyncratic author was as brilliant as everyone says he is. Unsure of which book to read first, I picked Sputnik Sweetheart on a whim. At first, I was disappointed. Now, wait a minute, before you come at me, read the rest of this blog post. I don’t know which part of the book let me down. It wasn’t the writing, which was powerful and evocative. He excels at providing strong imagery and descriptions that you cannot get enough of. It wasn’t the characters or a complex storyline that made me discontent either. It was the plot and the fact that I was not used to novels that left me with more questions than answers and left so much to the readers’ interpretation.
I didn’t know this at the time, and I was not about to stop at that. I knew there had to be more to Murakami and I was determined to find out what it was. So, I went down a Google rabbit-hole and read anything about Sputnik Sweetheart I could find. What I found out from Murakami fans (is there a name for them? Like Potterheads? I’m new help me out) online is that the beauty of his books is the fact that he leaves it to you to decide and his storylines give you so many possibilities. I also learned that his books don’t usually have a centric storyline and are more dependent on the themes, philosophies and characters to lead them.
I also learned about a little something known as magical realism, which is the genre Murakami’s books come under. Magical realism is a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. These authors deliberately leave the magic in their stories unexplained, in order to normalize it as much as possible and reinforce that is part of everyday life. This is a concise explanation but I think it gave me clarity on so much of what the book was trying to portray. Sputnik Sweetheart explored the mysteries and possible complexities of the world we live in. How there is much more to it than what we see.
The characters are pretty generic. We have the protagonist Sumire, (meaning: Violet) a witty, ‘better than most’, aspiring novelist, who dressed in an oversized herringbone coat and spent her days deep in thought and a Jack Kerouac novel. Sumire didn’t like everyone’s company but something about her drew people in. She probably thinks she’s unique to this world but little does she know, Sumire is every intellectual/brainy/bookish female protagonist. But although I’ve read about 100 Sumires, this kind of character is just one you can’t get tired of. We then have Sumire’s best friend and the narrator of this book, represented by the single letter, K. It’s true! K remains nameless throughout the book. This decision was probably for the best because K is the blandest character I have come across. I forgot that he was narrating multiple times because Sumire has way more personality than he does. She has her quirks and her writing while K is just… there. I think this was a good decision on Murakami’s part though because the attention would have swayed from Sumire if K had a vibrant personality. He was the perfect narrator. Our third and last character is Miu, Sumire’s love interest. I really like Miu and Sumire’s dynamic.
Miu is the opposite of Sumire, so to speak. She is an elegant businesswoman who speaks three languages, travels and has so many stories to tell. Miu is intriguing. Coming to the story, the plot really starts when Miu calls K from a remote Greek island to tell him Sumire has gone missing, and there are no leads. Following this is a series of revelations and the magical realism aspect comes in with the characters’ unusual experiences all leading up to the question, what happened to Sumire? That’s not for me to say because honestly, I still don’t have an answer. I’ve been trying to decipher the ending, and each time I come to a new conclusion. It’s a baffling, chilling story.
Final thoughts~ I am in awe of Murakami’s descriptions of loneliness, they were profound and different but somehow, you understand what he’s describing. I also loved the way he captured the ups and downs of writing and Sumire’s thirst for knowledge and curiosity and the way she asks questions we didn’t know we had at the back of our minds. The best was the parallel with Sputnik and the characters, I think he brought the title in very well. I’ll end by saying that if it is your first time reading Haruki Murakami, like me- don’t base your opinion on your first impression of this book. If you don’t get what he’s saying at first glance, think deeper, read it again. You will probably be very confused but also on the right track so, give it a try!
“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do.”
~Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart.
OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK: