Daily Archives: December 4, 2010

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murkami

I went back to reading my favourite book in the whole wide world – Sputnik Sweetheart, when faced with a reader’s block and it uplifts me everytime. I remember when I first ordered this book from Amazon in 2001 on a whim. The story spoke to me and I wanted to read it. Right after I finished the book, I lost my father and felt the biggest sense of loss in my life – it was as though the sense of loss that ran through the book had engulfed my life and I did not know where to go or what to do. I re-read Sputnik Sweetheart and read it again and everytime I read it, it made me feel better. It made me sense my loss differently and for that I am grateful to Murakami and will always be.

Now for the review.  Most of Murakami’s work revolves around a common theme — the sense of isolation people feel and how easy it is for this loneliness to break your spirit and leave you little more than an empty shell. Sputnik Sweetheart focusses on the sense of loss people feel when they discover that love is fleeting and realize that the closeness they share with someone today will soon fade and may never be recaptured.

The plot is fairly straight-forward. K is in love with his best friend Sumire, an aspiring writer who considers K to be a close friend, but nothing more. Sumire, in turn, is madly in love with Miu, a married wine importer who lost the capacity for love when she went through a traumatic experience as a student. Sumire sets aside her writing to work as Miu’s personal assistant, and the two head off to Europe on a business trip. Sumire mysteriously disappears, and Miu summons K to help search for her. Miu being a woman in the book is so matter-of-fact, that I loved it.

Each of the novel’s characters is scarred by loss, and like the Sputnik, each character feels isolated, connected to the world and the people around them by the most thin and tenuous of threads. Miu suffers a traumatic experience as a young student which leaves her half a person and turned her hair white. As K sees her for the last time, she is a hollow shell, and her white hair reminds K of bone that has had every bit of life bleached from it.

Sumire’s sense of loneliness is even greater. Having never previously experienced or even understood love, she falls completely for Miu only to realize that Miu will never love her back. Like two satellites briefly passing each other in space, never to meet again, Sumire realizes that the has grown as close to Miu as she ever will and that she will eventually lose what little she has. She imagines another world where Miu’s lost half still lives and abandons our world to seek Miu there.

K too feels isolated. As Sumire becomes increasingly enamored with Miu, K sees his best friend and closest confident slip away. When Sumire disappears for good, K does his best to move on with life, but the sense of loss stays with him, and as the novel concludes, K finds himself tempted to join Sumire somewhere in that other world.

One idea in this book is that we are all broken vessels, and we want others to complete us. But perhaps that’s too much to ask. After all, everyone is looking for something different, and many of us aren’t even looking. So we all continue to be broken, to live each day isolated and unfulfilled. Is this life as we know and understand it? At times. I highly recommend this book if you want something to mull over. The plot and ideas are not straightforward, but the emotional impact is there. You don’t have to look hard; just let the book guide you. Murakami will remind you of what you already know, beautifully and introspectively.

It’s about perfection and ideals attained and lost, the continuation of the now empty flesh, such that the soul and spirit become myths and bedtime stories told to the very bodies they once colored and infused. There seems to be an inverse proportionality of the relative smallness of the book to the hole left in your heart when he’s done with you this time. It may be my favorite, though I don’t know when I’ll have the strength to read it again. May be when the next reader’s block takes place.

Here are some of my personal favourite quotes from the book:

So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that’s stolen from us – that’s snatched right out of our hands – even if we are left completely changed people with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness.
Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?
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.