by: Haruki Murakami
Originally published May 22, 2001
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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