Sputnik Sweetheart – Review

Murakami excels when plumbing the depths of human loneliness and isolation while being surrounded by humanity.  In Sputnik Sweetheart, the narrator is known only as K.  He is a teacher who is madly in love with a woman two years younger than named Sumire. Sumire doesn’t reciprocate these feelings and later finds she wants to pursue a homosexual relationship with an older woman named Miu. Sumire comes to work for Miu and then disappears from a small Greek island while on a business/vacation trip with the older woman.

As with most Murakami stories, the attempts at a sexual life by the main character (and, as it turns out, all of the characters) is stunted, at best. At worst, the ability to have a sexual relationship is entirely missing. It’s probably worth noting that the one character who most fully overcomes their sexual shortcomings and even makes  a proactive attempt at finding a sexual life promptly disappears. 

There is a similar setup to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In an existence where the narrator’s life is literally split into two simultaneous halves, his sexual lives tend to culminate with going “underground” in some way to a strange and foreign place. Murakami seems to be forming a sort of equation where fully realizing your sexual fulfilment results in a distinct seperation from the conventional world – and at times it is leaving the conventional world that is required for this sexual fulfillment.

Still, this leads away a bit from the true essence of Sputnik Sweetheart. While sex, or the absence of sex, plays a large role in the story, it’s really a story that seems to revolve more around unrequited love and the isolation such love forces upon you. Miu, unable to enjoy sex-or equally share/build a relationship – because of an event from her youth, leads a life that substitutes independence for her isolation.  Meanwhile, K. has several sexual relationships but no real relationship because the one woman he desires and doesn’t have sex with is the only woman who seems to hold any interest for him on a deeper level.

Murakami is one of my favorite writers, so my opinion towards his work is slanted, but Sputnik Sweetheart is an entirely readable little novel that clocks in at around 200 pages. Like all Murakami works, it is something that can be read as superficially as you like but which has a surprising depth given its size and the deceptively simple construction. For summer fare it would make for leisurely reading on the beach or on vacation or, for those unfamiliar with Murakami works, a good introduction to him. For those familiar with Murakami, it makes for a quick jaunt into his universe and hits upon familiar themes and images.

Sputnik Sweetheart at Amazon

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