Sputnik Sweetheart

Murakami, Haruki

Published by Knopf
ISBN 10: 0375411690 / ISBN 13: 9780375411694
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Synopsis: Combining the early, straightforward seductions of Norwegian Wood and the complex mysteries of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, this new novel?his seventh translated into English?is Haruki Murakami at his most satisfying and representative best.

The scenario is as simple as it is uncomfortable: a college student falls in love (once and for all, despite everything that transpires afterward) with a classmate whose devotion to Kerouac and an untidy writerly life precludes any personal commitments?until she meets a considerably older and far more sophisticated businesswoman. It is through this wormhole that she enters Murakami?s surreal yet humane universe, to which she serves as guide both for us and for her frustrated suitor, now a teacher. In the course of her travels from parochial Japan through Europe and ultimately to an island off the coast of Greece, she disappears without a trace, leaving only lineaments of her fate: computer accounts of bizarre events and stories within stories. The teacher, summoned to assist in the search for her, experiences his own ominous, haunting visions, which lead him nowhere but home to Japan?and there, under the expanse of deep space and the still-orbiting Sputnik, he finally achieves a true understanding of his beloved.
A love story, a missing-person story, a detective story?all enveloped in a philosophical mystery?and, finally, a profound meditation on human longing.

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart finds Haruki Murakami in his minimalist mode. Shorter than the sweeping Wind-up Bird Chronicle, less playfully bizarre than A Wild Sheep Chase, the author's seventh novel distills his signature themes into a powerful story about the loneliness of the human condition. "There was nothing solid we could depend on," the reader is told. "We were nearly boundless zeros, just pitiful little beings swept from one kind of oblivion to another."

The narrator is a teacher whose only close friend is Sumire, an aspiring young novelist with chronic writer's block. Sumire is suddenly smitten with a sophisticated businesswoman and accompanies her love object to Europe where, on a tiny Greek island, she disappears "like smoke." The schoolteacher hastens to the island in search of his friend. And there he discovers two documents on her computer, one of which reveals a chilling secret about Sumire's lover.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a melancholy love story, and its deceptively simple prose is saturated with sadness. Characters struggle to connect with one another but never quite succeed. Like the satellite of the title they are essentially alone. And by toning down the pyrotechnics of his earlier work, Murakami has created a world that is simultaneously mundane and disturbing--where doppelgängers and vanishing cats produce a pervasive atmosphere of alienation, and identity itself seems like a terribly fragile thing. --Simon Leake

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Title: Sputnik Sweetheart
Publisher: Knopf
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good

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