Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami is a fine place to start if you’re venturing into Murakami’s world and writing for the very first time. This slim volume was first published in 1999, and seems to be a halfway point of sorts between Murakami’s earlier works, and his latest ones. Of course, as he continues to write, this halfway point will undoubtedly move, but for now, Sputnik Sweetheart showcases a beautiful, non-intimidating balance of his style and imaginings, then and now.
Similar to my previous read of his, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Sputnik Sweetheart avoids naming the protagonist. We only know him as K, and that’s because Sumire refers to him in her writing (and it says so on the back cover of the book). K is in love with Sumire, his best friend. She, in turn, is in love with Miu, a married woman who can never return her affection. And then during a business trip break, Miu calls K in the middle of the night, seeking his help as Sumire has vanished, into thin air.
This story is beautifully written, and is a fine example of how Murakami works his artistry as a writer. One can’t help but feel that each word, each phrase, has been written carefully and precisely, for a very specific purpose. And I have to give props to the translator, Philip Gabriel, for capturing what I hope is the essence of Murakami’s work.
Sumire’s actual disappearance takes place about a third into the book. And while it is clearly important, it doesn’t actually make up the bulk of this story, which is also about Miu. And it is through Miu, and later, Sumire’s story that we experience that otherworldly Murakami magic. It’s not blatantly weird, but sufficient enough to cause this tale to dig a little deeper.
There is one part of this novel, the bit where K gets back to his life, which I found a little bit draggy. But perhaps it is such to illustrate the mundanity of his life without Sumire, in which case, it worked. And as the book comes to a close one has to wonder if that incident that takes place at the very end – was it real? Or was it just a dream?
We’ll never know. And that’s how Murakami leaves you wanting more.