“In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life. An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains–flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits.”
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami is an own-voices Japanese surrealism fiction novel about a young woman named Sumire and her long-time best friend who is only ever revealed as “K.” They have an intimate, unfiltered sort of friendship where they like to have discourse on an array of topics including rather personal events and experiences as well as simple, harmless banter on the mundane. When Sumire falls in love and the world as she has known it begins to change around her, she becomes swept away in the tides becoming lost herself.
This novel was a fantastic reminder for me as to why I fell in love with this author’s works many years ago beginning with South of the Border, West of the Sun and then following suite with After Dark. His prose is eloquently evocative yet subtle in its attack on the mind and heart. As one flips to the next page and the one after that, they become so swept away by the characters and the strangeness of their personas that is intertwined in the seemingly normal existence of everyday living. It’s my favourite sort of literary fiction to read and when excellently threaded surrealist elements are sewn into the narrative, what it leaves behind is an exceptional work of brilliance.
On the surface, Sputnik Sweetheart appears to be a straightforward love story of sorts. Yet the deeper that I dove into the relationship between Sumire and K, and the influences that she had upon him, particularly as she fell in love and started changing along with the shifts in her personal world, the story becomes something else; something far darker and more contemplatively complex. Instead of being surrounded by a basic plot of love and longing, Murakami instead creates a hypnotic portrait of what it means to become lost in the uncertainty of self-identities, especially when our identities are tightly bound to people outside of ourselves. It is breath-takingly unsettling, haunting even, in the manner of which Sumire’s longing transforms into this depth of psychological desperation for companionship, to be wanted and desired in such extreme fashions.
One of my favourite elements of Sputnik Sweetheart include the cognitive metaphors that are expressed with disturbing emotions pertaining to abject ache that stems from an overwhelming sense of affection. It’s depicted with sharp and piercingly realistic details to make the spine shiver and the heart race with anxiety, tension, and a wholly candid sense of yearning all our own. If one has ever craved or desired a specific person or a particular brand of relationship with another, then they shall feel the carving sting of the heartache presented here with some ferocity. Being able to empathise with every thought and every shift of feeling from Sumire or K, while elementary in typical literary works, complemented the flowy fantastical storytelling so masterfully.
Sputnik Sweetheart is a stunning work of surrealism. Appearing basic and banal upon the surface, the novel ends up offering the reader a myriad of perspectives for contemplation while maintaining an air of ambiguity that expresses the potency of longing, love, and hope that almost always arrives with unrequited affections. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to fans of metaphorically explorative literature with respect to heart-ache and the human psyche, folx that are searching for a place to start their journey with Haruki Murakami’s works, and bibliophiles that have a soft spot for surrealistic storytelling with equivocal finales.
Publication Date: April 2002
Publisher: Vintage International (978-0375726057)
Genre: Japanese Literature, Surrealistic Fiction
Page Count: 210
Content Warnings: Graphic sexual content and misogyny. Sexism. Brief animal death. Brief scene of sexual assault.
GoodReads: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Availability: In-print, available in paper and eBook formats.