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SPUTNIK SWEETHEART by Haruki Murakami Kirkus Star


by & translated by

Pub Date: April 30th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-41169-0
Publisher: Knopf

This latest from the acclaimed Japanese author of A Wild Sheep Chase (1989) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997) is an equally deft and affecting dramatization of recent postwar alienation and anomie.

Narrated by an unnamed student and schoolteacher, it chronicles his frustrating relationship with Sumire, a headstrong young woman devoted to Jack Kerouac and the Beats and determined to make her way as a novelist. Their story is set in 1957, as Russia's satellite Sputnik travels through space—an image explicitly connected to Sumire's partially unrequited love for Miu, the (older, married) Korean woman who becomes her employer, mentor, and traveling companion. An urgent phone message summons the narrator to an island off the coast of Greece, whence Sumire has inexplicably disappeared—and to extended conversations with the bereft Miu, whose disclosures only intensify the narrator's resigned realization that people who attempt, then neglect or fail to achieve, intimacy are themselves "in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal on their own separate orbits." The mystery of Sumire resists solution, despite partial explanations suggested by Miu's haunting story of being trapped in a Ferris-wheel car at a Swiss amusement park, evidence contained in disks found in Sumire's computer (which indicate that she has moved on, to "the other side" of her personality, and possibility), and a teasing climactic episode in which the narrator involves himself in the fate of his married lover's young son (who's also his student), when the latter is caught shoplifting. Nothing is spelled out, but worlds of implication exfoliate from this stunning, beautifully structured novel: a moving depiction of the mystery of other people, ever capable of "disappearing" into "places" where we cannot, try as we may, follow them.

Reminiscent of both Antonioni's classic film L'Avventura and Murakami's own Norwegian Wood (2000): an irresistibly plaintive dramatization of the differences and distances that preclude and frustrate the human need for connection.