Sputnik Sweetheart is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever reluctantly finished. Murakami (and a lot of credit for this goes to the book’s Japanese-to-English translator Philip Gabriel) has a true gift for prose and it’s that single characteristic more than anything else that compelled me to finish the book. I’ve never read one of his books before but from what I know about him, Sputnik Sweetheart is pretty typical of his body of work. It’s narrated by K, a young teacher in Japan with one friend who he’s desperately in love with. Sumire is an aspiring writer who would’ve fit in well with the Beats, and she’s the only person that he’s ever felt a connection with. So when she goes missing while on vacation with her boss (who she’s in love with), K travels all the way to Athens to figure out what happened to her.
The main theme (and consequently the main emotion you’ll feel while reading this) is loneliness and isolation. Loneliness and the search for passion is all the characters think or talk about, and even at a scant 210 pages it weighs you down. It reminded me of the quiet that only comes in the dead of night when you feel like you’re the only person in the world who’s awake. Your mind is foggy and confused and there’s no one to talk to to help you sort it out. It’s to Murakami’s credit that the book is so effective at capturing an emotion, but it’s also why, in the middle of reading, I put it down for two months. I needed to find a respite since the book doesn’t really give you any. It doesn’t help that the pace of the book doesn’t pick up until about two-thirds through.
Sputnik Sweetheart is a beautiful exploration on loneliness (with some interesting detours into the writing process via Sumire), fulfillment, and the rarity of a true human connection. But that heavy kind of loneliness is a rough weight to bear and for most of the book there isn’t enough to K that merits taking that weight on. The book is ultimately saved by Murakami’s gorgeous prose, because he brings enough beauty to the sadness.