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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Sputnik Sweetheart

by
Murakami Haruki


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Sputnik Sweetheart



Title: Sputnik Sweetheart
Author: Murakami Haruki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 210 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Sputnik Sweetheart - US
Sputnik Sweetheart - UK
Sputnik Sweetheart - Canada
Les amants du spoutnik - France
Sputnik Sweetheart - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: スプートニクの恋人
  • Translated by Philip Gabriel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : wistful tale of human relationships

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph B 11/6/2001 Patrick Gale
The Economist . 17/5/2001 .
Evening Standard A+ 14/5/2001 Jenny Turner
The Guardian A+ 26/5/2001 Julie Myerson
The Independent . 14/5/2001 Kim Newman
The LA Times . 26/6/2001 Michael Harris
London Rev. of Books . 18/10/2001 Theo Tait
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 28/11/2002 Franz Haas
New Statesman . 4/6/2001 Julian Loose
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/6/2001 Daniel Zalewski
The Observer . 3/6/2001 Zoe Green
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2001 Brian Evenson
Salon . 19/4/2001 Laura Miller
San Fran. Chronicle A- 29/4/2001 Francie Lin
TLS B+ 11/5/2001 Henry Hitchings
The Village Voice A- 12/6/2001 Dennis Lim
The Washington Post B+ 29/4/2001 Janice P. Nimura


  Review Consensus:

  Most opinions quite favourable, but a lot of uncertainty about the book.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sputnik Sweetheart is a little like an Eric Rohmer film, in that everybody talks incessantly and not always cogently, but their babble matters less than the deeper feelings and human truths it betrays. Alas, it also runs the same risk of appearing slight the moment one abandons the effort of caring." - Patrick Gale, Daily Telegraph

  • "Sputnik Sweetheart, his latest offering to appear in English, though slighter than some of its predecessors, quickly draws you in and holds you there." - The Economist

  • "Like all Murakami's novels, Sputnik Sweetheart has a dreamlike logic to it, and an irreducible strangeness. (...) It's about love and the loss of love, vocation and the loss of vocation, sexual desire and the loss of that as well. It is a beautiful novel, as light as a feather, and yet enduringly sad." - Jenny Turner, Evening Standard

  • "I'll come right out and say it: I don't really know what Murakami's startling new novel is about. But it has touched me deeper and pushed me further than anything I've read in a long time. (...) Murakami has given us a work so much larger and more pungent than the sum of its parts." - Julie Myerson, The Guardian

  • "Sputnik Sweetheart, with its precise but deceptive prose, can be read inside two hours, but is carefully put together like a low-yield time bomb to stay in the mind and throw off associations." - Kim Newman, The Independent

  • "But Sputnik Sweetheart is a story that ends before the novel does -- mainly because this version of the escape-hatch idea is too blunt to be persuasive. People don't vanish through wormholes in the cosmic fabric, no matter how much we might fear or wish they do." - Michael Harris, The Los Angeles Times

  • "In Sputnik Sweetheart überwiegen bei weitem der sprachliche Flitter und eine hohltönende Weltläufigkeit -- die sich noch so ironisch spritzig geben mag. Umso überzeugender ist ein isoliertes Kapitel gegen Ende des Buches, wo der Erzähler in seinem japanischen Alltag zurück ist" - Franz Haas, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "To describe Murakami's characteristic mode of expression as childlike would be unfair to children: his clunky yet oddly weightless prose often seems to aspire to the banal. By the end of Sputnik Sweetheart in particular (...) we recognise an author who has taken faux naïvete to the next level. And yet there is something bold and exhilarating about Murakami's writing, and always has been" - Julian Loose, New Statesman

  • "(T)he novel suddenly becomes a weird homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura. Like that of Anna, who in the film vanishes one night while visiting a tiny Mediterranean island, Sumire's disappearance defies rational explanation. But unlike L'Avventura, which never unravels its central mystery, Murakami does hint at a solution. And that solution is breathtakingly freaky." - Daniel Zalewski, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Murakami's novel is a slippery fish which consistently defies categorisation. He takes the bare bones of a narrative and fleshes it out with the trademark surreal, labyrinthine imagery that has won him legions of fans worldwide. The effect is a dreamlike, detached quality." - Zoe Green, The Observer

  • "Sputnik Sweetheart is remarkable in its simplicity and its ability to present in distilled form a distinctly Murakamian narrative. Yet this strength might also be considered a weakness. Those who have read Murakami's other books might well see Sputnik Sweetheart as a concession: Murakami lite. (...) It is a lucid work of fiction that is more interesting and perhaps more complicated than it initially seems." - Brian Evenson, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Murakami knows that the most haunting tales never have all their loose ends tied up by the last page, but unlike The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Sputnik Sweetheart doesn't leave too many of them unspooled and dangling. It's a tighter book, if less grand and captivating, and the point of this exercise in the uncanny feels more focused." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "For all its strange and touching beauty, Sputnik Sweetheart is not the best of Murakami's novels. Its flaws have mostly to do with the protracted end, which offers a single instance of hope and communication. Against the novel's darker canvas of abandonment and loneliness, it seems too quick, too easily destroyed." - Francie Lin, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Fortunately, the lunar imagery does not pervade Murakami's depiction of their scalene love triangle. Much of the writing is subtle, and conceits are seldom indulged at the expense of readability. All the same, the spirit of the lunar imagery is discernible in the novel's rather mannered pursuit of cosmic truths." - Henry Hitchings, Times Literary Supplement

  • "This slender volume breaks no new ground, but it represents an invigorating synthesis of previous triumphs (.....) Murakami's distinctive voice -- unadorned, colloquial, companionable -- indulges in a few more flights of sustained lyricism than usual. The cosmic metaphor hinted at in the title -- the solitary orbits and enveloping darkness endured by space hardware -- is a little labored, but Murakami abandons it entirely in the bravura final stretch." - Dennis Lim, The Village Voice

  • "The transition to an alternative, bizarre reality is abrupt, and may make Sputnik Sweetheart more of an acquired taste than some of Murakami's previous titles. Though it is just as full of his startlingly apt imagery and deadpan attention to everyday detail, there is a heavier than usual dose of philosophical musing." - Janice P. Nimura, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Sputnik Sweetheart is a tale of unrequited loves and of those who, despite deep and close friendships, remain alone -- all of us, Murakami sometimes seems to suggest. There is the narrator, a young teacher whose name we never learn (beyond the cryptic, Kafkaesque initial K one of the characters uses when referring to him). There is Sumire, the young aspiring novelist he loves. There is Miu -- or a person called Miu (the narrator warns very early on: "I don't know her real name, a fact that caused problems later on") -- who Sumire falls in love with.
       The title is Sumire's "private name" for Miu: she mentions to Miu that she is reading Jack Kerouac, and Miu can't quite think of what kind of novelist he was, mistakenly calling him a Sputnik (instead of a Beatnik). Sputnik also means "traveling companion" in Russian, as Miu discovers, and this is how she feels about Sumire:

(W)e were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits.
       The narrator and Sumire also share a similar Sputnik-relationship. They are very close friends. She calls him at odd hours of the night, she trusts him -- but she doesn't love him, to his great disappointment.
       The gist of the story is that Sumire goes to work for Miu, travels with her to Europe --- and then suddenly and inexplicably literally disappears. Miu summons the narrator to Europe to see if he can be of any help, but he can't figure out what could have happened to her either.
       This being a Murakami novel, there is much more than this gist, of course. There are also many small episodes, similarly significant, and ultimately feeding into and deriving out of the larger mystery.
       Sumire is trying to be a writer, and even though she is apparently very talented she isn't able to entirely control her material yet. The results are still too unfocussed. The narrator isn't a writer, but he does have some authorial concerns (especially about his role as both "narrator" and "narratee"). There are a variety of attempts at story-telling by the various characters throughout the book. Communication isn't always easy, and sometimes the stories are the most effective way of conveying thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
       Among the few apparent clues left behind when Sumire disappears are two pieces of writing, both of which are presented in full. One, significantly, tells not her story but Miu's. Miu had warned Sumire early on: "The person here isn't the real me. Fourteen years ago I became half the person I used to be." The story behind what happened back then is only revealed in Sumire's tale. Not surprisingly, what happened to Miu -- causing her hair to turn white overnight -- fits with the general satellite theme: she was literally stopped in orbit when she lost her better (?) half.
       Miu and Sumire, and Sumire and the narrator have good relationships, on a certain level. But Miu can't return Sumire's love, and Sumire can't return the narrator's love. Miu is also married, but she doesn't sleep with her husband either. The narrator is involved with an unhappily married woman (the mother of one of his pupils). There are no happy sexual relationships in this book: the others that Murakami describes also aren't close to any romantic ideal. Everybody is a sputnik.
       The novel meanders along, building to Sumire's disappearance and then the attempt to figure out what might have happened to her. Murakami does this quite well, but he goes about it in a somewhat roundabout way, and it isn't always clear what he is aiming for. When the narrator returns from Europe, essentially giving up looking for Sumire, the novel seems to spin even farther out of control as he lingers over a completely different episode, involving his girlfriend and her son. But here Murakami is at his best, back from the dreamy and sometimes unreal contemplation of what might have happened to Sumire. The surprising and seemingly unrelated episode does, in fact, help tie it all together, Murakami striking the right tone and then bringing the story nicely together.
       Sputnik Sweetheart could do with a bit more substance. It feels a bit rushed in getting to Sumire's disappearance, not entirely developed as much as one might wish. Still, it is a nice, wistful read, a good short novel.

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Links:

Sputnik Sweetheart: Reviews: Murakami Haruki: Other books by Murakami Haruki under review: Books about Murakami Haruki under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Japanese literature at the complete review
  • David Mitchell's Murakamiesque Ghostwritten

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949. He attended Waseda University. He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.

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© 2001-2010 the complete review

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