Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami is an achievement in connecting the emotional crumbling of unrequited love with self-loathing loneliness.
2/5 Rescored from a 3, only ok.
Type of Story: Contemporary fiction with emphasis on connecting to the reader emotionally. Some surrealism.
– Explanations of emotions that the characters are feeling are well written.
– Unique characters
– Beautiful prose that has a strong element of emotion.
– Reader empathizes with the characters easily because of the circumstances the characters find themselves in are highly relatable.
– Magical realism is used in the narrative to bring up ideas to the reader but adds very little to the narrative.
– The story is secondary to the “messages” that the book is trying to relay.
Similar Books/Media: The unrequited love portion reminded me a little bit of The Great Gatsby between Daisy and Gatsby. Possibly 500 Days of Summer, one of my favorite movies, is similar in the fact that the main male character, Tom, in 500 Days of Summer created his entire identity around Summer and Sumire does the same in Sputnik Sweetheart.
Plot – 2(Weak)
Sputnik Sweetheart is the story of three individuals that love each other but not in the way that each of them want them to. K, our narrator, is in love with his closest friend Sumire. They have an intimate relationship of telling each other everything but while Sumire just considers him a friend, K wants to have a romantic relationship with Sumire. Sumire, a writer, on the other hand, falls in love with a woman that is 17 years older than her named Miu. This is the first time Sumire has had feelings towards someone of the same sex. Miu likes Sumire but the thought of a romantic relationship with anyone at all is not an option for her. Things come to a head when Sumire disappears on an island and Miu calls K to come help try to find her.
Sputnik Sweetheart centers around these relationships that just aren’t happening. It is interesting in the beginning because we are unsure what will happen with these three very unique individuals. Murakami does a great job of detailing the emotions that each of these characters feel and it is the highlight of this book. The plot was great and I was really invested into this book until the last quarter of the book.
Where the plot ventures off is when Murakami wants to introduce the idea of a dual identity into the narrative with the use of magical realism. The idea of a dream like world where there is another version of us that gives into desires and does things that are uncharacteristic just didn’t work for me. I felt that the focus on unrequited love and loneliness were fine to carry the entire book without adding identity ideas into the narrative.
The disappearance of Sumire felt as an excuse to just read her writing and to introduce these other themes that Murakami wanted to explore. Her disappearance didn’t amount to much and the reaction by K and Miu annoyed me(lets have dinner before I tell you about what happened to your best friend). I really don’t like plot divergences that are only there for theme or message reasons.
Characters – 3(Fine)
Sumire was the strongest character in the novel because she had the most to say. Her view of the world was unique and her struggle with writing was something that I enjoyed. Her dealing with having feelings for Miu were handled extremely well and because I don’t read a whole lot of lesbian characters I enjoyed watching her deal with her desire towards Miu. I felt a lot of empathy towards Sumire.
K, the narrator, handled his love for Sumire relatively well while still being friends with her. I saw a lot of similarities to K and myself which was interesting.
Miu was a fascinating character that had a lot of mystery surrounding her. Her back story was the start of the divergence that the plot took but her back story itself, not the way it was done, was interesting. I actually felt extremely sorry for Miu after this novel.
Setting – 1(Very Weak)
The setting of Sputnik Sweetheart was not important to Murakami at all. The island in Greece was probably the best setting in the book but it still took such a backseat to everything else. I was hoping for more Japanese culture elements during this book but there just wasn’t much at all. In fact the majority of the book is just them at a coffee shop or at dinner talking.
Writing Style – 4(Strong)
I now understand the appeal of Haruki Murakami, especially to young adults. Where I believe his audience really lies is between the ages of 16-24 where people are trying to battle with ideas of identity and insecurity. Regardless, his prose is great. You don’t really realize how sweeping some of the passages are until you reread them. Even though I am giving this book a 3/5 it is something I might pick up again and reread just because of the special parts. I just wish that the sum of all the parts were as good as the individual special parts.
This is the type of book that people who love this type of literature will go crazy underlining and noting all their favorite lines. For a book that is just a little over 200 pages long, there are quite a few passages that people would love to quote.
Heart and Mind Factor – 4(Strong)
I have to admit that I am an emotional person and this book did register with me emotionally. The heart factor for me was strong because I have been in situations of unrequited love, like most people. This book brought up those instances of rejection and desire back to my mind. What is nice though, is that even though you think of moments in your past that were hurtful while reading this book you get a clearer perspective on those instances of pain to help you accept them more for what they were, two people that care for each other but not love. I can see this book becoming the perfect post breakup book for a lot of readers.
Recommendation: I recommend Sputnik Sweetheart to anyone that enjoys messages, prose, and thematic elements over a strong narrative. If you want to read a book about unrequited love, what loneliness is because of not having love, and musings on identity this might be something you would enjoy. This is a book that you could dissect and get a lot out of if you are into contemporary literature. I enjoyed this enough to try another Murakami book and to possibly revisit Sputnik Sweetheart in the future when I am more used to Murakami’s surrealism and magical realism. I can see a longer book with a stronger plot really being a good read. This was a good break from my usual fantasy books.