“In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life.”
The title of this book is from a malaprop from one of the characters. In discussing books by Jack Kerouac and writers like him, the character calls them “Sputnik writers” meaning Beatnik, and this becomes an inside joke between the two. But of course the misunderstanding also becomes a symbol, and is appropriate to Kerouac as a wanderer. The novel goes on to remind us that Sputnik 2, which contained the dog Laika, was lost and never recovered, also a wanderer. But Sputnik means “travelling companion” which is where the novel uses it to reference the relationship between the Sumire from the opening line and an older woman she becomes friends with, and falls in love with.
The narrator of this book is a young teacher who reads constantly and is both close friends with Sumire, and in love with her. Sumire is trying to figure out exactly what her sexual orientation is, and this creates tension in the novel. Regardless, it doesn’t seem like she’s in love with our narrator anyway. So in the throes of his unmet affection, he too is a wanderer. The novel culminates in a trip to a Greek island that is unnamed, and like a lot of novels that end up on a Greek island, it’s vitally important to the plot and to the characters.
This is a novel in part about doubling and shadow selves, and how one way to think about those darker or different parts of yourself is to create an actual break between the conscious you, and this other you that also seems to function within you.