If there is anything which fuels us into moving down out of the trees and from there, everywhere, it must be passion and desire. It couldn’t be boredom, that only leads us to the television, and nothing great can come from that. But p. and d. sends us on our way toward religion, art, music and a new and improved toilet paper. Sometimes, it leads to our destruction.
“Sputnik Sweetheart” by Haruki Murakami is set in contemporary Japan, but apart from a few cultural references, it could be read a century from now and still sound current (a fact which threw the Kirkus Reviews writer who thought it was set in 1957 from the Kerouac and Sputnik references at the beginning of the book. The anonymous reviewer must have missed the Mac Powerbook being used at the end of the novel. Ah, well, the book is only 210 pages long, and Kirkus doesn’t pay very much for its opinions).
All great love stories have a triangle, to keep the happy or unhappy ending from happening too soon, and in this case it’s Sumire, the dedicated unpublished novelist, Miu, the older woman and object of her desire, and the narrator, a teacher and close friend of Sumire, who loves her deeply. Like the Russian satellite, they go round and round and round, sometimes crossing paths and sometimes trying to connect. Murakami describes and explores their relationship in a quiet, restrained fashion, coolly post-modern, but clear in its intent.
With a book this short, telling more would be to tell all. The facts are few, but richly embroidered with plenty of meditations that could be read in a number of ways. The life of the book exists not just on the page — and it’s a pleasure to read Murakami’s work on that basis alone — but what goes on in your head as you track the orbits and these lonely satellites.