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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
Sputnik Sweetheart
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on 10 November 2017
Quality book, great writer, stories that keep you thinking.
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on 11 November 2015
Typical Murakami, but a long way short of being one of his best works. Not one I'd recommend.
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on 21 September 2015
Lively and entertaining book full of little scenes and quasi-philosophical observations, gradually turning into high drama. It is mainly about chaotic Sumire (22), whose sole passion is to write the ultimate novel and who has never felt any sexual desire. Until she meets Miu (38), a married Korean-Japanese ex-pianist, now businesswoman, who transforms her into a non-smoking, perfectly-dressed and competent personal secretary.The person recording it all is an unnamed male person, K (24), a fellow student Sumire trusts and loves above anyone else, calling him at all hours, discussing music, books and life until dawn. K is keenly attracted to her physically, but knows any pass would spoil their bond forever.
This reader (m) is an amateur re HM, having read only a handful of his novels. Here, the lighter parts read like Milan Kundera, the name dropping of foreign brands more like Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney; the vast knowledge of pop, jazz and classical music is strictly HM’s own. The novel ups tempo when K in Tokyo receives a call from Greece from Miu. Could he please rush to a small island near Rhodes? Why? Because Sumire has disappeared, as if gone up in smoke…
What follows is for readers to find out. This reader is of the recreational type, not keen on explaining philosophical or supernatural matters. However, one theme is the utter loneliness of every soul on earth and beyond, symbolized by the dog Laika viewing the earth briefly in 1957 from the SU Sputnik satellite. Another is Japanese upbringing and schooling: the little shoplifter in Ch 15 could now be a “hikikomori” a stayer-with-parents, adult Japanese rejectionists of real life not found in such great numbers elsewhere. But his teacher K. may have saved him just in time…
When finished I realized that even the most innocent remark, image or anecdote, would return later in a different context. A woven book. Parallel worlds, time warps, stellar dark holes double as deep wells in which a character pines for release, are ideas and images Murakami elegantly hogties with more mundane writing, creating a unique worldview. Diehard (f?) fans will grab its gravitas all at once or reread it again and again, playing all the musical pieces mentioned with the right performers, accessed via Google and YouTube. Found one minus point: Sumire’s early attempts at defining herself. Too woolly for recreational readers. Otherwise, engrossing and worth re-reading.
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on 9 December 2017
I really liked this book. Was an interesting, slightly odd, medium-length story. My first Murakami, certainly not my last.
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2008
`Sputnik Sweetheart' starts simply enough with the narrator telling us all about Sumire, an aspiring writer who wears a second hand herringbone coat and chain smokes. Sumire falls in love with Mui, a woman who is seventeen years her senior and who offers her a job. Sumire becomes unrecognisable to the narrator, K, as she is gripped by her feelings. Sumire follows Mui to a Greek Island and it is whilst they are there that K receives a phone call asking him to come to Sumire's aid...

Although there was nothing to particularly dislike about this novel, there wasn't anything I found particularly engaging either. I didn't believe that Sumire would fall in love with Mui and the relationships seemed a bit flimsy. There are about ten amazing pages somewhere near the middle that deal with Mui's past but it wasn't enough to carry the whole novel. The overall message seems a little depressing too; K loves Sumire but she doesn't love him, Sumire loves Mui but she doesn't love her and Mui seems incapable of love. Is love really that impossible?

Not one for me.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 November 2016
Haruki Murakami's "Sputnik Sweetheart" (2001) is a novel with themes of rejection, frustration, and lack of self-knowledge. There are three primary characters, a nameless young man who is the narrator, Sumire, a young woman who aspires to be a writer, much taken with Kerouac and the beats, and Miu, an apparently successful and polished career woman in her late 30's. The novel involves a romantic triangle between these three characters. The narrator is in love with Sumire, but Sumire is romantically uninterested in him or in any man. Sumire instead finds herself deeply attracted to Miu, whom she meets at a party. The plot of the novel consists of the working out of the triangle between Sumire, Miu, and the narrator.

The slender,spare story of this novel is greatly enhanced by the many ways in which Murakami uses musical themes. Sumire was named after a song by Mozart with a text by Goethe which her mother heard on a recording by Elizabeth Scwartzkopf and Walter Giesking. This song, I found, is Mozart's "Das Veilichen", K. 475 (the violet) the only song Mozart set to a Goethe poem. It tells the story of a beautiful young woman who does some callous things. I think the song is a symbol (another key concept in this novel) of the story as a whole. It is good to read a book that can make creative and appropriate references to Mozart and music -- not to speak of Charles Peirce's philosophy of signs and symbols.

Miu aspired to be a concert pianist before an event occurred which changed her life. There are outstanding discussions in this book of music and of the joy of playing the piano. The love of music is tied closely in this book to the welcoming and acceptance of one's human sexuality.
There is a spiritual theme I find implicit throughout this book which might have been more fully developed. The book led me to think about the nature of human desire, about the relationship between sexuality and intimacy, and about frustration and unhappiness resulting from the lack of self-knowledge. The characters in this book are all lonely and all exhibit deep sexual frustration. The exploration of these issues suggests a consideration of the nature of desire, sexuality, change, and self-awareness that are profoundly explored in many religious traditions.

I didn't find the characters in this book fully bore the weight Murakami put upon them. The male narrator for me was the only appealing character in the book. Even here, I had trouble getting involved with a young man who remains deeply obsessed with a woman who rejects him physically in favor of a woman. The book reads quickly and well, and is highly evocative in its spare prose. The book stayed me and stimulated by thought and reflection long after I had finished it.

Robin Friedman
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on 29 November 2016
Framed by a complicated love triangle where each individual participant appears thoroughly alone 'Sputnik' enters the world
of dreams and imagination to seek true contentment. Although we may be all part of the human race each and every one of
us is by ourselves when the fabric of the modern world is stripped away. Can't get what you want? Then fabricate your wants
and desires through the medium of a dream. A short book by Murakami's standards but still studded by his unique style. There
is more to the lives we lead than what is apparently obvious.
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on 7 March 2003
This is the question asked by the narrator of Sputnik Sweetheart. "What's the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the Earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?"
Sputnik Sweetheart doesn't answer this question; it only asks it through the story of Sumire, a 22-year-old girl who fall in love with a woman seventeen years her senior. The narrator, K, who is also the "narratee" because he is Sumire's confidant, recounts the complexes and sometimes surreal lives of Sputnik Sweetheart's characters. Sumire, who dreams of being a writer until she meets Miu. Miu, a rich wine dealer whose hairs turned all white in one night some forty years ago, and himself, a teacher who is having an affair with the mother of one of his pupils.
In some respects it's a Japanese "Jules et Jim". Despite his affair, K is in love with Sumire; Sumire realises one day that she is in love with a woman, Miu, but the latter can't love anyone anymore. This impossible love triangle could have stood still for a long time if one day, whilst Miu and Sumire were on holiday on a Greek island, Sumire hadn't suddenly disappeared. This disappearance is the cathartic event that will expose the loneliness of Murakami's characters and by extension our loneliness.
Murakami is my second attempt at Japanese literature. I started with Mishima's Golden Pavilion some years ago, and that definitely wasn't an easy read. Murakami's style is much easier, more "modern", and the narrative more straightforward. Every sentence seems to be constructed with the optimal number of words, like Sumire's writing. The different parts of the novel feel exactly the right length, and the action progresses just when you feel it should progress. Somehow, it feels as if it were mathematically constructed, and that this is a choice to epitomize the way we live, mechanically, without really thinking about the root of our passion (and our actions) until we are confronted with them or they are challenged.
Sputnik Sweetheart is a story of love, of loneliness, and of a friendship that love reveals but could also destroy. It is an emotional journey that makes us thinks about our relations with our friends and loved ones. Why do we love them, why do we came to love them, why do we need them, and what would happen if they were to disappear from our life?
A very simple story that succeeds where long and heavy ones have failed
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on 28 October 2013
In many ways, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart is a typical novel from the Japanese writer. Certain themes and motifs are present in many of Murakami's works. Sputnik Sweetheart follows the brilliant Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the novel I believe to be Murakami's masterwork. Whereas that story was like a labyrinth, this is a more straightforward kind of tale, or as straightforward as a Murakami story can be.

Interestingly, after the other labyrinth-like work, Kafka on the Shore, Murakami also followed that with a more contained kind of novel, After Dark. And at the centre of both Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark are female characters, which is something of a rarity for the author.

Neither Sputnik Sweetheart nor After Dark are bad novels. In fact, they are very good novels. But it does seem that these novels are a kind of `break' for Murakami. Similarly, the expansive work Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was followed by the more intimate Norwegian Wood. Therefore, when you look at Murakami's bibliography, you do see a pattern emerge.

Whilst The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a story about a missing cat, Sputnik Sweetheart is about a missing woman. The woman in question, Simire, is a young aspiring novelist, and realises she is a lesbian when she meets a woman named Miu at a family member's wedding. Up until meeting Miu, Simire's sole focus in life was writing. Although Simire is at the centre of the novel, in typical Murakami style, it is narrated by a male protagonist. This man, named `K.', is Sumire's only connection with the real world before she meets Miu. K. is in love with Sumire, although his feelings are not reciprocated.

Unfortunately, I do think the narrator could be more compelling, as he doesn't seem to react much to the woman he loves falling for someone else. This is where the novel falls short slightly. Of course by nature, Murakami's protagonists are somewhat apathetic, but this did feel a little unnatural. What was also frustrating was the lack of closure. Ambiguity isn't something that I normally find a problem in stories - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is perhaps Murakami's most ambiguous novel, yet it is also my favourite. But the loose ends in Sputnik Sweetheart feel a little unfair on the reader. Whilst in Wind-Up Bird the reader effectively had a whole world to play with, again, this is a story which is quite contained, and so it feels more important that we find out the answers. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable read, but it does feel as though Murakami doesn't see off the dangers his formula brings quite as well as he does in other works.
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on 18 October 2002
Murakami picks up the themes from Wild Sheep/DanceDanceDance/Wind-Up Bird once more, with, in this case, the title referring to the lonely isolation of typical human existence, rather like satellites drifting around in the void, only rarely encountering fellow travellers. Once again, there's a reality/dreamworld duality, an attempt to explore the subconscious, a sense of alienation from self and others, and a search for the forms and ideas that we somehow feel must exist somewhere, but definitely aren't knocking around in the real world.
Which is fine as far as it goes - and Murakami pulls this trick off better than anyone else - but it was done a lot better in the books mentioned above. Not only does this book feel lightweight in comparison (although it runs to 220 pages, it has that existentialist short story feeling), it simply leaves too many holes in the narrative. If anything, it reads as a defeated attempt to understand the problems he's been attacking in his earlier work: "well, I'm not even going to try and guess what's in the gaps in reality this time - you figure it out. I'm off to the pub".
If you've stayed with me this far, I should, in fairness, point out that he still writes brilliantly. The language and imagery is as great as ever; the characters do, by and large, convince, seduce and entertain; the dialogue conjures up a field of human interaction that's uncomfortably realistic in its sense of isolation.
But we've been led to expect more than this... more story, more answers, or at the very least, some different questions. Beautiful prose and "deep" characters don't on their own make a great novel - if you don't believe me, try and read Anil's Ghost all the way through.
Haruki Murakami is one of the greatest novellists you can get at in English today, so please read him. But if this is your first experience, please read one of his other books. They're better.
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