Murakami’s seventh book, Sputnik Sweetheart is an unusual love triangle, packed with surreal moments and imagery. The novel leaps from reality to the unreal in a way that will grip you and keep you wanting for more.
The very first Murakami novel I read was Kafka on the Shore. I read it at a time when everyone, book lovers and experimental readers alike were devouring this book. All of a sudden, there was a frenzy about a novel that wasn’t actually written by or had anything to do with Franz Kafka, but one that had his name in the title itself. I liked it enough to keep me hooked until the end, but not enough to make me go on to read his other books. At the time I was 19 and, to me, all that Murakami wrote was about cats – talking ones at that – loneliness and existentialism.
His most common themes are still cats, existentialism and loneliness and Sputnik Sweetheart is no different. But this time when I read Murakami, there was a difference. I was left wanting more. Sputnik Sweetheart traces the life of three people; the protagonist of his book, the 22 year old lovely, flighty writer, Sumire; the beautiful and exotic wine importer, Miu; and the narrator himself, K. It’s an unusual love triangle with Sumire showing her lesbian tendencies and falling hopelessly in love with Miu and K, the loving and understanding friend who, at any given time, wants to hold and cuddle up with Sumire every time she unloads her grief on him.
Sputnik Sweetheart isn’t Murakami’s best books. It’s much shorter, almost a novella compared to his other, more popular novels like Dance, Dance, Dance or even Norwegian Wood - the book that made Murakami what he is today. But even so, it portrays his most common theme of loneliness in a clear, concise form. It raises questions about life and existence, it turns and twists around the arguments about our purpose on earth but doesn’t answer them. The sheer beauty and simplicity of some of the lines is what intrigues me. Sumire and Miu bond and form a close relationship at a wedding reception one evening, after speaking about the Russian satellite, Sputnik. A simple answer to a simple question: “Do you know what Sputnik means in Russian? Travelling companion.”
It’s a simple story woven around complex themes. It’s a story about love, friendship and relationships and the eternal life question of ‘are we alone in this journey called life?’. Murakami focuses on characterisation and plot equally. When Sumire decides to become Miu’s personal secretary instead of focusing on her writing full time, her wavy unkempt hair become glossy and straight, her scruffy jeans turn into chic dresses. Murakami portrays an honest approach to life, people and relationship.
Sputnik Sweetheart may not be one of his ‘best’ or widely read books, but his writing is brilliant and seductive. It sucks you in and keeps you wanting for more. Read it if you like Murakami. Read it if you don’t like Murakami. But, read you must.