First Japanese edition
Supūtoniku no Koibito
|Published in English||April 2001|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Sumire is an aspiring writer who survives on a family stipend and the creative input of her only friend, the novel's male narrator and protagonist, 'K'. 'K' is an elementary school teacher, 25 years old, and in love with Sumire, though she does not quite share his feelings. At a wedding, Sumire meets an Ethnic Korean woman, Miu. The two strike up a conversation and Sumire finds herself attracted to the 17 years older woman. This is the first time she is sexually drawn to anybody. Miu gets Sumire to work for her. Gradually, Sumire accepts the job offer. This meeting and the ensuing relationship between the women leads to Sumire changing. She starts wearing nicer clothes, gets a better apartment and even quits smoking, she also stops writing.
K. suddenly starts getting Sumire's letters from Europe. They track Sumire's and Miu's travels. In the last letter Sumire mentions that instead of coming home they are to spend some more time on a Greek island vacationing.
K. calls Sumire's house wondering about when she will return. The only answer he gets is from the answering machine. Then he gets a surprising call from Miu, asking him to fly to Greece because something has happened to Sumire. Miu doesn't explain much, but it's clear the matter is urgent. The connection is shabby and the line is soon cut.
K.'s new school year is starting in a week but he doesn't think and leaves for Greece the next day. He meets Miu for the first time and she tells him that Sumire has vanished. Disappeared without a clue. She tells him about the string of events that led to the point of Sumire's disappearance. Miu is very pleased to have K. around and is reassured by him that Sumire is not the kind of person who would kill herself.
Miu leaves for Athens to get help from the embassy and to call Sumire's parents. K. spends a day on the island thinking about Sumire and her fate. He has a realization that there might be some clue in Sumire's writing that Miu mentioned. He finds a floppy disk that contains Document 1 and Document 2. They contain Sumire's writing about her dream and a story that Miu told her about an event that transformed her 14 years ago. Trying hard to connect the dots, K. figures that Sumire has left this world and entered a parallel one. He then has a mystical experience during the night.
Miu returns after a couple of days. K. feels his time there is up even though he feels a connection to Miu. He returns to his everyday life. With Sumire gone he feels like he lost the only precious thing in his life. He receives another distressed call, this time from his girlfriend who is also a mother of one of his students. Her son nicknamed Carrot got caught stealing in a supermarket. The security guard is distressed by Carrot's actions and K.'s looks. After a tedious conversation he lets Carrot go. K. sends the mother home and takes Carrot to a coffee shop. Carrot doesn't say anything the whole time. K. tells him the story about Sumire. He believes the kid is deep and that he understands him. He breaks up with the mother.
He continues with his solitary life. He never hears from Miu again, despite her promising to keep in touch. He only sees her once more driving past him in her Jaguar.
As with other Murakami works, Sputnik Sweetheart lacks a clear, concise ending.
Murakami explores familiar themes such as the effects of prolonged loneliness, growing up emotionally stunted in an overwhelmingly conformist society, and the conflict between following one's dreams and clamping down on them in order to assimilate into society.
While Sumire is an emotional and spontaneous individual who often appears to be a misfit in society, "K", the narrator, is a person who has through sheer force of will moulded himself into another person, one who integrates seamlessly into the wider society and culture around him, and the transition leaves him emotionally stunted and unable to express his feelings. When Sumire is also, through her interaction with Miu, forcibly shaped into a person other than she is, the transformation is neither permanent nor successful.
The book's major themes include loneliness and people's inability to truly know themselves or the people they love. This is symbolized by the recurring metaphor of the Sputnik satellites orbiting at a distance from the earth. As in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Dance Dance Dance, Murakami uses (or rather, suggests) alternate worlds as a plot device. "K", the narrator, is a markedly different protagonist from those of Murakami's other novels. He is considerably less given to or adept at wisecracks, maintains a respectable and stable profession as a schoolteacher, and is less self-confident and much more introverted and conflicted than any other Murakami protagonist.
Many elements of the plot remain deliberately unresolved, contributing to the idea that true knowledge is elusive, and actual events of the story are obscured in favour of the characters' perceptions.
The book ends with the theme of The Telephone, which appears in numerous books by Murakami, usually when telephoning from a far-away place, whose location is unclear.
In popular culture
- Sputnik program
- Jack Kerouac, an author from the Beatnik generation; Miu confuses this with Sputnik, leading to the book's title.