Review: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Now that I passed my essay and presented my "reaction" to my first Murakami book, I could finally post my review/reaction of Sputnik Sweetheart.

Haruki Murakami

Blurb from Goodreads

Haruki Murakami, the internationally bestselling author of "Norwegian Wood" and "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," plunges us into an urbane Japan of jazz bars, coffee shops, Jack Kerouac, and the Beatles to tell this story of a tangled triangle of uniquely unrequited loves. 
A college student, identified only as "K," falls in love with his classmate, Sumire. But devotion to an untidy writerly life precludes her from any personal commitments-until she meets Miu, an older and much more sophisticated businesswoman. When Sumire disappears from an island off the coast of Greece, "K" is solicited to join the search party and finds himself drawn back into her world and beset by ominous, haunting visions. A love story combined with a detective story, Sputnik Sweetheart ultimately lingers in the mind as a profound meditation on human longing.

I’ve never read anything written by Haruki Murakami before. I was never enticed to read any of his works despite the quotes, recommendations and reviews of fellow book lovers and book bloggers. Some bibliophile I am. What is worse is that most of Murakami’s books are reflective of Japanese culture and society as said by some of the reviews that I have read on any of his books and as student whose master’s degree’s specialization is Japan and who professed to be more interested in its culture rather than economics or government, I am a big disappointment. 

But let me defend myself. It might be because my main interest in books is centered around the young adult genre, particularly paranormal fantasy. Because of the jadedness that I have developed with the state of this world I tend to want to escape to worlds where the heroes and heroines are anything but ordinary, where their worlds are not ordinary and the problems of their worlds can be solved with being who they were meant to be without ever caring what the society would want them to be. There, they are free. 

Oh, I have also read fiction with no paranormal elements and contemporary fiction but I have never deliberately read anything that is more in line with Murakami’s works. In fact, I tend to stay from them and if not for Sputnik Sweetheart being a school assignment, then I would never have read it… At least until I am thirty and by then my taste in books would have evolved again. 

What has been niggling in my mind when I was reading about Sumire’s supposed sexuality as a lesbian was that she may not have been a lesbian after all. Alright, consider this: Sumire was an out-of-luck, 22-year old woman who dropped out of college because she thought it was a waste of time and who was an aspiring writer. Well, she may be a writer who was churning a lot of words daily out of her word processor but was never quite satisfied with her work nor, I assume, had any courage to publish what she wrote. Add to that she dressed like an old lady who lives with 30 cats and was an overall nerd who was also a disappointment to her father. Then all of a sudden, like a meteor that lightens up the everlasting midnight sky, Miu comes into her life. Miu, unlike Sumire, was beautiful, glamorous, successful and, I suspect, the darling of society – all of the things Sumire was not. And here I put forth one theory about Sumire: perhaps the reason she wanted to be with Miu is not because she admired and eventually fell in love with her but because she wanted to be Miu, just like her – beautiful, glamorous and successful not out of envy, no, but enough to come out of her shell and be accepted by society. A lot of divergents tend to lead a life of loneliness, only just opening up to one or two people or to none at all, because society most of the time do not welcome those who do not conform to the standards and rules set by the general populace. Perhaps, by being close to Miu, Sumire thought that she would be like her and as time went by she was slowly transformed: a stable job, new clothes, new hairdo, new apartment, new image. But despite being a “better” her, Sumire realized that something in her was being slowly erased and I am not only talking about her writing prowess but something that made her Sumire. That night in Greece when Sumire initiated sex with Miu was like testing the waters if she would be really accepted by the society at large (which Miu I think represented) and Miu’s rejection of her was the final straw, the final indication that she was never going to be accepted and will always be alone. 

Miu saw a kindred spirit in Sumire. She liked her and perhaps Sumire reminded her of herself when she was younger before that ever happened. That meaning the event that happened to her while she was in Switzerland where she apparently witnessed her own self having sex with a guy in her apartment while the “real” her was high up on a Ferris wheel using a pair of binoculars to spy on her own self. It did get confusing and I thought Well, hey now, I thought this was contemporary fiction sans paranormal activity. It did delve into some fantastical elements that I was not expecting at all. However, as I thought about the incident and recalled the thoughts and feelings that Miu had before that happened, perhaps there was some sort of detachment that happened with Miu when that happened. A detachment that can be best symbolized by the transformation of her hair from black to white. In most cultures, the whitening of hair marks the transition from young to old, from noon to twilight and from ignorance to wisdom. If we are going to look at it this way, Miu lost her innocence when that happened and the logical thing that could best explain the doppelganger is this: 

Miu had always been a foreigner. She may be have been born and raised in Japan but she would always be labeled as a Korean. Oh, who cares she thought I’m going to be a concert pianist. The greatest there is and I will not be labeled as that Korean anymore. So up she goes and went to Paris to study under the best and was considered one of the best. Yet she realized that even if she practiced the most and had the perfect technique, she didn’t get the grandest applause. During one of her summer holidays, she went to a town in Switzerland, observed the local daily life and fell in love. She settled there for the rest of the summer. But as days went by, she got the feeling that she was being observed and stared upon by Caucasians. Who is that Asian? Her insecurities at being different came back. Ferdinando, whom she met by chance, seemed interested in her and maybe by being with him she will finally be accepted. However, the experience she had was voracious, degrading and somewhat harrowing. This was not what she wanted! At that moment, she was split in two and she fled to the Ferris wheel, a thing that she perhaps associated with happier times (as she recalled her father taking her to ride a Ferris wheel when she was younger) and mourned. She returned to Japan beaten, unable to play the piano, and with the death of her father, took over her father’s business and said goodbye to her dreams. 

So, if Miu and Sumire was about loneliness and want of acceptance what about dearest K the narrator of the book? 

One thing I know about him is that he seems to be the loneliest of the bunch. His frustration with his unrequited love for Sumire made him seek for some sort of comfort and affection from other women, preferably older than him and married. He was surrounded by his students and his co-workers who might be also his friends. But do you ever get the feeling that even if you are surrounded by a crowd you still feel alone? He had a family but he felt different from them; he had numerous girlfriends but they were not the one he wanted; he had his friends but he only wanted just one person’s company; and he was denied his wants. 

Were those theories a little farfetched? Maybe, but by this time I was beginning to understand that the book’s overall theme is loneliness and wanting to be accepted for who you are against the dictates of society.

Were those theories a little farfetched? Maybe, but by this time I was beginning to understand that the book’s overall theme is loneliness and wanting to be accepted for who you are against the dictates of society. 

You know what, this theme is perfect for the YA genre which is read mostly by teenagers who, more or less, are going through the same confusion and transition – when they are at the cusp of molding themselves to what they would be for the rest of their lives. But transition and change do not really stop the moment you turn 18 or 21 or 65, it is a continuous process and you may not know when it will end or if it will ever end at all.


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