Searching For My Sputnik Sweetheart:
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
“I remember very well the first time we met and we talked about Sputniks. She was talking about Beatnik writers, and I mistook the word and said ‘Sputnik.’ We laughed about it, and that broke the ice. Do you know what ‘Sputnik’ means in Russian? ‘Traveling companion.’ I looked it up in a dictionary not long ago. Kind of a strange coincidence if you think about it. I wonder why the Russians gave their satellite that strange name. It’s just a poor little lump of metal, spinning around the earth” (Murakami, 98).
This is what Miu, the woman Sumire had fallen in love with, tells, K. K is the narrator of the story, and he is in love with Sumire. Miu has a husband whom she sees on weekends, but they never sleep with each other, let alone touch each other. It is all very complicated.
Let’s start from the beginning. Sumire, whose name means “Violet” in Japanese, is quite an oddball. Here is how K describes her:
Sumire wasn’t exactly a beauty. Her cheeks were sunken, her mouth a little too wide. Her nose was on the small side and upturned. She had an expressive face and a great sense of humor, though she hardly ever laughed out loud. She was short, and even in a good mood she talked like she was half a step away from picking a fight. I never knew her to use lipstick or eyebrow pencil, and I have my doubts that she even knew bras came in different sizes. (6)
And this is coming from a man who loved her. Loved her dearly. He does add that “…Sumire had something special about her, something that drew people to her. Defining that special something isn’t easy, but when you gazed into her eyes, you could always find it, reflected deep down inside” (6). It seems that, by the end of the story, Miu would strongly agree with K’s sentiments. Miu can never love Sumire the way Sumire loves her, since she no longer has the ability to love anybody. But in her own way, she comes to care deeply for Sumire.
Here is the thing. Even though Miu did not return Sumire’s feelings for her, Haruki Murakami suggests that, in the other world, it is possible that Miu did return Sumire’s love. (If you want to know what “the other” world means, then you should read the novel. It’s a quick read.)
Sumire twenty-two years old when she meets Miu, a thirty-nine year old married woman. Instantly, she realizes that she has fallen in love with Miu. As she says, “Ice is cold; roses are red; I’m in love” (25). And at the same time, she realizes that this love is going to carry her off somewhere with a tornado-like strength.
At the end, Miu makes the following confession to K:
And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in an absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing (117).
Even though Sumire, Miu, and K had all crossed each other’s paths, in the end they are left on their own, each as lonely as he or she has ever been.
This makes me wonder: why is it that people are lonely? Despite the many traveling companions that we cross paths with in life, how is it possible that we can feel so lonely? I ask this because I agree with Haruki Murakami – that, there are moments when we feel like we are spinning in our own solitary orbits, searching for our own Sputnik Sweetheart.
Murakami, Haruki, and Philip Gabriel. Sputnik sweetheart: a novel. Vintage International, 2002.