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‘Sputnik Sweetheart’ – Book Review

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‘I remember very well the first time we met and we talked about Sputniks. She was talking about Beatnik writers, and I mistook the word and said ‘Sputnik’. We laughed about it, and that broke the ice. Do you know what ‘Sputnik’ means in Russian? ‘Traveling companion’. I looked it up in a dictionary not long ago. Kind of a strange coincidence if you think about it. I wonder why the Russians gave their satellite that strange name. It’s just a poor little lump of metal, spinning around the Earth.”

These lines are from Haruki Murakami’s novel ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’, which help reader understand the significance of the title. It’s drawn from a conversation between two of the protagonists – Sumire and Miu.

The plot of the book is almost like a traditional love triangle, with some magical realism thrown in to add some mystery to the tale. The narrator of the book is simply referred to as ‘K’, who is a school teacher and is in love with his friend Sumire, an aspiring writer and his junior from college. However, Sumire falls hopelessly in love with the much older Miu, a married businesswoman. The two meet at a wedding and things are never the same for Sumire.

Like with Murakami’s other works, the writing is lucid and flows smoothly like a calm river. Murakami captures the sentiments of unrequited love through both K and Sumire quite beautifully. K serves as Sumire’s ‘3 am friend’, she is always calling him late in the night, to vent about her life or to ask all sorts of questions. Sumire and Miu on the other hand forge a more formal relationship, as the latter starts working for the older woman. The two often travel together for work too, and this only makes it even more difficult for Sumire to keep her feelings in check.

The story goes strong for the first 60% of the novel and then just get a little bizarre. Murakami’s use of magical realism only serve to confuse the readers, although, there are limited interpretations to what’s happening in the story. However, after keeping the story limited to the K-Sumire-Miu triangle, a significant amount of pages are dedicated to K’s fling with a different woman, that just felt unnecessary and annoying. As a reader, you just don’t care about a fleeting relationship K decides to have with someone.

The climax like most of Murakami’s works is cryptic and the reader had to draw their own conclusions. While that’s not a problem at all (a lot of us love drawing our own conclusions), I just didn’t enjoy how the book diverges towards the end to focus on some random things that don’t bear much importance. Also, we barely get enough glimpse into Sumire and Miu’s relationship. I was just left quite disappointed by the end of the novel.

It’s a 3/5 from me.

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