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Sputnik Sweetheart: A Novel Paperback – April 9, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sputnik Sweetheart finds Haruki Murakami in his minimalist mode. Shorter than the sweeping Wind-up Bird Chronicle, less playfully bizarre than A Wild Sheep Chase, the author's seventh novel distills his signature themes into a powerful story about the loneliness of the human condition. "There was nothing solid we could depend on," the reader is told. "We were nearly boundless zeros, just pitiful little beings swept from one kind of oblivion to another."

The narrator is a teacher whose only close friend is Sumire, an aspiring young novelist with chronic writer's block. Sumire is suddenly smitten with a sophisticated businesswoman and accompanies her love object to Europe where, on a tiny Greek island, she disappears "like smoke." The schoolteacher hastens to the island in search of his friend. And there he discovers two documents on her computer, one of which reveals a chilling secret about Sumire's lover.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a melancholy love story, and its deceptively simple prose is saturated with sadness. Characters struggle to connect with one another but never quite succeed. Like the satellite of the title they are essentially alone. And by toning down the pyrotechnics of his earlier work, Murakami has created a world that is simultaneously mundane and disturbing--where doppelgängers and vanishing cats produce a pervasive atmosphere of alienation, and identity itself seems like a terribly fragile thing. --Simon Leake --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Murakami's seventh novel to be translated into English is a short, enigmatic chronicle of unrequited desire involving three acquaintances the narrator, a 24-year-old Tokyo schoolteacher; his friend Sumire, an erratic, dreamy writer who idolizes Jack Kerouac; and Miu, a beautiful married businesswoman with a secret in her past so harrowing it has turned her hair snowy white. When Sumire abandons her writing for life as an assistant to Miu and later disappears while the two are vacationing on a Greek island, the narrator/teacher travels across the world to help find her. Once on the island, he discovers Sumire has written two stories: one explaining the extent of her longing for Miu; the second revealing the secret from Miu's past that bleached her hair and prevents her from getting close to anyone. All of the characters suffer from bouts of existential despair, and in the end, back in Tokyo, having lost both of his potential saviors and deciding to end a loveless affair with a student's mother, the narrator laments his loneliness. Though the story is almost stark in its simplicity more like Murakami's romantic Norwegian Wood than his surreal Wind-Up Bird Chronicles the careful intimacy of the protagonists' conversation and their tightly controlled passion for each other make this slim book worthwhile. Like a Zen koan, Murakami's tale of the search for human connection asks only questions, offers no answers and must be meditated upon to provide meaning. (Apr. 30)Forecast: Long the secret delight of connoisseurs, Murakami has been steadily and quietly acquiring a wider readership. His latest offering breaks no new ground but is packaged in a striking manner and should attract a few newcomers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726057
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages, and the most recent of his many international honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Sputnik Sweetheart-- as you can read elsewhere in the review, it's about Sumire, a 20something would-be writer, who feels friendship for our narrator, K, a slightly older teacher, though he adores her and desires her. Instead, Sumire falls in love with Miu, a mysterious older woman. Though they're never what you'd actually call a couple, Sumire ventures to join Miu at work, and they travel to Europe, where Sumire disappears "like smoke," as Murakami writes. Our narrator is summoned from Japan to help solve the mystery.
If there's a central theme, it might be the examination of loneliness, and how people try to meet, and nearly meet, but never quite do so. Though Murakami doesn't hide this below the surface, his style is such that the reader never feels as if attending a lecture, but rather it resembles listening to the all-too-seldom musings aloud of a very wise, close friend.
A never-consummated relationship, a close relationship between one who is madly in love and another who has no such desire to take "that step," is the source of great sadness and lonesomeness. I've not encountered a writer yet who writes of this as well as Haruki.
If you've read Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart should hold few surprises for you. It has the simple story structure of Norwegian Wood, and indeed many of the plot elements are very similar. But there is a shadowy, creeping supernatural flavor to the novel also, an otherworldliness that reminds me of _A Wild Sheep Chase_ or _Wind-up Bird Chronicle_.
IF YOU'RE NEW TO HARUKI MURAKAMI: I wouldn't start with Sputnik Sweetheart. He's written many wonderful novels, and I would recommend _Norwegian Wood_ or _A Wild Sheep Chase_ instead: _Norwegian Wood_ because it's simply a better all-around novel, and _A Wild Sheep Chase_ because it's a better introduction to Haruki's work.
Sputnik Sweetheart is a little delicacy, a short and bittersweet treat. I eagerly await Haruki's next work.
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Format: Hardcover
To some extent, all Murakami's books are tightly structured along a philosophical theme (i.e. life and death in Norwegian Wood, conscious and subconscious in Hard-boiled Wonderland, and despair and action in Dance Dance Dance), but in Sputnik Sweetheart he goes into a territory less universal - sign and symbol, idea and spirit, and presence and absence. I used to see Murakami as a philosophical novelist, but now I feel like I'm reading a novel written by a philosopher.
The storyline is only a cover for Murakami to unfold his reflections on these themes - Sumire was swept by her love for an otherworldly woman; meanwhile, the earthier "I"(is he yet again nameless?) quietly awaits her love. It's his discussion on the contradictory forces behind these characters that makes Sputnik Sweetheart an intriguing read: Sumire was named after a Mozart's song with the most beautiful music and the most callous lyrics; Miu is a foreigner who can no longer speak her mother tongue; "I" is a passionate, kind, intelligent teacher, who nonetheless sleeps with the mother of one of his pupils. All of them feel the force of destiny, and each answers in one's own way: Sumire disappears after her quest for heavenly beauty; Miu is no longer a living person, but a memorial to the person she was, just like the statue of her father. "I" remains in this world, resists, and hangs on to a thread of hope that nobody else would call hope. All three are aware that they need some fresh blood - the spirit - to revitalize their being - the white bones.
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