Searching For My Sputnik Sweetheart: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

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.

 

<Works Cited>
Murakami, Haruki, and Philip Gabriel. Sputnik sweetheart: a novel. Vintage International, 2002.

“The Most Spectacular Show on Earth”: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

“The Most Spectacular Show on Earth”: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

“I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other” (5).

So Jacob Jankowski, the protagonist of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, says in the beginning of his story. Jacob is at a nursing home, where he is extremely unhappy with being forced to eat mushy food instead of real food – for example, like pot roast that his wife used to cook for him, “completely with leathery bay leaves” (8) – and with having no excitement in his day-to-day life where the “monotony of bingo and sing-alongs and ancient dusty people parked in the hallway in wheelchairs makes [him] long for death” (13).

One day, Jacob loses it when a newcomer named Joseph McGuinty, a retired lawyer, makes the following statement: “I used to carry water for the elephants” (9). Despite McGuinty’s growing frustration and anger, Jacob keeps on insisting that no, McGuinty had not carried water for the elephants, even when McGuinty pushes himself off his wheelchair to insist that yes, he had. McGuinty then falls to the ground, the nurses come, and Jacob ends up having to eat his meal in his room instead of in the dining room with the others.

But Jacob Jankowski had a valid reason for thinking McGuinty was lying. Jacob knew exactly what it meant to carry water for elephants because he himself had carried water for an elephant, named was Josie. Josie and Jacob had been part of a circus, called the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. And this elephant, Josie, had performed an act with a woman named Marlena. Marlena was a beautiful woman and Jacob fell in love with her, which was problematic because Marlena was married to a man named August, and everyone knew August was insane. Add to this the fact that the circus crew had a strict and binding hierarchy where stepping over the line meant you would easily be thrown off a train moving full-speed. But Jacob couldn’t help falling in love with Marlena. The first time he saw her, his heart had stopped because she looked exactly like Catherine Hale, a girl who was in his class at Cornell, whom he had been attracted to. But when both of Jacob’s parents died suddenly in a car crash, and their lawyer told Jacob that his parents had used all of their money for his tuition, therefore having no money and no property left to their names, Jacob had to nowhere to go. So, after leaving in the middle of his final exams in his last year of Cornell – where he could not even tell whether the test was written in English or in Polish – he decided to jump onto a train, and ended up putting himself right in the train of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

McGunity has no idea what it was like to be in the middle of “full-fledged stampeded” (308) where one could see “bits of chimp, orangutan, llama, zebra, lion, giraffe, camel, hyena, and horse…[c]reatures of every sort zigzag, bolt, scream, swing, gallop, grunt, and whinny” (308). There had been at least two men killed that night, even if one death was not the result of the stampede. And here is Joseph McGuinty, claiming that he used to carry water for the elephants. The nerve of him…

 

<Works Cited>
Gruen, Sara. Water for elephants: a novel. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.

 

 

The Glass Castle In the Sky

“The Glass Castle In the Sky”
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

“I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets” -Jennette Walls.

When Jeannette Walls was growing up, her father made a promise to build a Glass Castle: “It would have a glass ceiling and thick glass walls and even a glass staircase. The Glass Castle would have solar cells on the top that would catch the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity for heating and cooling and running all the appliances. It would even have its own water-purification system.”

Jeannette’s father is the type of dad who can’t be relied on to hold a job, pay the bills on time, or be sober for more than a few days. But he’s also the kind of dad who, because he couldn’t afford to give his kids Christmas presents, gave them the stars in the sky to choose from. But Jeannette and her siblings need more than that. They need a roof that doesn’t leak over their heads. They need a warm house with insulation, with floors that don’t sink down from termites. They need parents who can hold down jobs, or be able to save enough money so all of them can eat, and have clothes on their backs that aren’t missing buttons or aren’t frayed from too many washings.

With parents who could not change their ways for their kids, it’s amazing what Jeannette and her siblings have been able achieve on their own.

Jeannette admits that, despite all of his shortcomings as a parent, no one has ever loved her like her dad, and perhaps no one ever will. That day, when her dad had asked her to pick a star, she chose Venus, not knowing at first that it is a planet, not a star. And there would be moments when she would glance up at the sky and see her own planet blinking at her. I imagine that, just like Venus that hangs up in the sky and watches over her, when Jeannette looks up at the sky, maybe she can also see the Glass Castle that her dad dreamed of building could also be found somewhere among the stars, where he can watch over the rest of his family.

 

<Woks Cited>
Walls, Jeannette. The glass castle: a memoir. Scribner, 2006. E-Book Edition. https://www.axisnow.com/#q?epub=https%3A%2F%2Fnode.axisnow.com%2Fcontent%2Fstream%2F9781416550600&amp;

“The History of People Who Have Loved Beautiful Things”: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“The History of People Who Have Loved Beautiful Things”:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

 

In The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Theodore Decker says:
What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way? (745-746)

What if the good things that happened in life did not always continue on to good things, and what if the bad things in life did not always continue on to worse things? What if the Good could lead to the Bad, and vice versa? After all, as Theo says, “[W]e don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are” (761). If all of this is true, then what can we hold on to? How can we endure?

The story of The Goldfinch starts when Theodore Decker is thirteen. He has a father who drinks all the time and is completely irresponsible, and a mother who loves him and is there to take care of him and all of his worries. But that all changes when a boy named Tom Cable at his school smokes, and Theo, standing by near him, gets wrongfully caught by a teacher. Theo and his mother are called to his school, and on the way to the school, his mother decides they should stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of her favorite places in the world, since there is some time left before the meeting. No one knew that there was going to be a bomb explosion at the museum, and that it would take away the life of Theo’s mother along with the lives of many others, including a man named Welty Blackwell. Dazed and confused from the shock of the explosion, Theo finds himself in the destroyed building of the museum, bloodied and bruised, when Welty calls out to him. During the last minutes of his life, Welty makes a surreal yet genuine connection with Theo, where Theo can see, hear, and breathe the things that Welty describes. Welty gives a ring and an artwork, The Goldfinch painted by Carel Fabritius, to Theo, and by accepting these items, Theo goes onto live his unstable and unpredictable life, where he learns much more about life than he may have expected.

Theo has quite a pessimistic view of life. Because of what he has seen and been through since he was young, this is perhaps natural. Theo’s mother once tells him, “People die, sure…But it’s so heartbreaking and unnecessary how we lose things. From pure carelessness. Fires, wars. The Parthenon, used as a munitions storehouse. I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle” (28). This resonated with me in that, indeed, so many people and things are lost due to circumstances that are unfair and cannot be justified. However, I thought it was interesting that Theo’s mother referred to this as “carelessness”. Ironically, Theo’s mother becomes a victim of this carelessness, and her death teaches Theo that life is anything but predictable. His mother had meant the world to Theo. But he did not get to see her during the last moments of her life because no one knew that their time at the art museum would be their last time together. Regardless, Theo remembers all of the small moments. As he says:

I remember a few weeks before she died, eating a late supper with her in an Italian restaurant down in the Village, and how she grasped my sleeve at the sudden, almost painful loveliness of a birthday cake with lit candles being carried in procession from the kitchen, faint circle of light wavering in across the dark ceiling and then the cake set down to blaze amidst the family, beatifying an old lady’s face, smiles all round, waiters stepping away with their hands behind their backs— just an ordinary birthday dinner you might see anywhere in an inexpensive downtown restaurant, and I’m sure I wouldn’t even remember it had she not died so soon after, but I thought about it again and again after her death and indeed I’ll probably think about it all my life: that candlelit circle, a tableau vivant of the daily, commonplace happiness that was lost when I lost her. (7-8)

I have never experienced the death of someone close to me, but I imagine that if someone we loved in our life was taken away so suddenly, these small moments would come to haunt us. My mother lost her father when she was a teenager, and even though she has never shared any details, I know that he showed up a few times in her dreams, because she always mentioned it during breakfast the next day. I cannot imagine how painful Theo’s mother’s death must be for him: the searing pain of having lost someone he loved, and yet not being able to do anything about it. Yet, as a young boy, Theo has to face the fact that he has lost his mother with no way to find out why.

There is a curious connection between Theo and Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. There is something about how the Goldfinch is chained in one ankle that reminds me of Theo. Personally, the painting is nothing that I would have considered to be interesting. I mean, the painting shows a bird with a small chain on its ankle. I probably would have noticed the bird, and not the chain, and I would have probably glanced at it for about five seconds, noting some of the vibrant colors that I liked, and moved onto the next painting. However, Theo sees something different in it. For him, it is “support and vindication,” “sustenance and sum” (559). This is because, from this very painting, Theo learns that “[W]e can’t choose what we want and don’t want,” and that “[s]ometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us” (770). And so, just like the painting, Theo reaches out to the readers to add “[his] own story of love to the history people who have loved beautiful things” (771), adding his story of love and life to the multitudinous stories of love and life that we are all living in, and will continue to live in.

 

<Works Cited>
Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Kindle Edition.

 

The Woman and Her Swan: The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Woman and Her Swan:
The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters
As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

 

“I wanted everything for you to be better. I wanted you to have the best circumstances, the best character. I didn’t want you to regret anything. And that’s why I named you Waverly. It was the name of the street we lived on. And I wanted you to think, This is where I belong. But I also knew if I named you after this street, soon you would grow up, leave this place, and take a piece of me with you.” (433)

This is what Mrs Lindo Jong, Waverly’s mother, says in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, in a chaptered titled “Double Face.” All of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club – Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair – want the same thing: they want their daughters to have much better lives that their own. Unfortunately, the daughters – Jing-mei Woo, Waverly Jong, Rose Hsu Jordan, and Lena St. Clair – do not understand these motives of their mothers, just as they do not fully understand who their mothers had been before they became mothers. There had been lives, dreams, and family members left behind, and yet, the women do not find the time or the opportunity to tell their daughters about themselves. In the end, the daughters find out some things they knew about their mothers, but they do not completely come to understand the individual people that their mothers had been. But it is an impossible question to be fully answered: What is the right way to be a mother? What is the right way to be a daughter?

While we may never know the “right” answer to these questions, it seems that mothers and daughters have built-in instincts to try to look after each other and to save each other. For example, An-Mei Hsu remembers her mother who, after her first husband’s death, had married a rich merchant, only to be shunned by her family and to live an unhappy life. However, when she learns that her mother is ill, she comes back home to find that her mother is near death. This is when An-Mei sees a side of her mother that she will remember forever. She recounts:
I saw my mother on the other side of the room. Quiet and sad. She was cooking a soup, pouring herbs and medicines into the steaming pot. And then I saw her pull up her sleeve and pull out a sharp knife. She put this knife on the softest part of her arm. I tried to close my eyes, but could not. And then my mother cut a piece of meat from her arm. Tears poured from her face and blood spilled to the floor. My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time… (78)
Even though her family had shunned her for her actions, An-Mei’s mother still comes back and does the best she can to help restore her mother. It is not just mothers who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their children. Their children are also willing to sacrifice themselves to save their parents. An-Mei continues:
Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain. This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh. (79)
To remember what is in our bones, we must peel off our skin, and that of our mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing, no scar, no skin, no flesh. This is the inevitable bond between mothers and daughters.

Mothers leave a mark on their daughters, and their daughters carry it until the end of their lives, when they pass it off to their own daughters. Jing-Mei Woo’s mother had to flee China because the Japanese were invading. She had to leave behind her house, her friends, and her two babies. However, for Jing-Mei, the story feels distant. Her mother would tell her the story during her spare time, when she would unravel a story so she could knit. Remembering these times, Jing-Mei says of her mother, “…as she began to roll with one sweeping rhythm, she would start her story. Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine” (31). No matter how much mothers want their daughters to have happier and better lives, they have to realize that their daughters lives cannot be completely different from the ones they experienced. Mothers and daughters have strong connections, and this can show on their facial features, personal characteristics, eccentric habits, etc. Therefore, when the mothers’ stories end, their daughters pick up the thread. Even though Suyuan Woo and her daughter may not realize, their stories share more similarities than differences.

In closing thought, in “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” a woman says to the Queen, “O! O! You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever; over and over again?…Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever” (347). It seems to be a never-ending question for mothers: How to guide their daughters so they can live a life of happiness. Do daughters have more choices than their mothers in happiness?

 

<Works Cited>

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Electronic Reproduction, Penguin Books, 2006, minuteman.overdrive.com/minuteman-acton/content/media/6AB2B71E-8E5E-459A-AF4C-1F188BB39ED3.

 

“A Nightingale’s Song”

“A Nightingale’s Song”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

(*Minor Spoiler Alert*)

“I hope you never know how fragile you are, Isabelle.”
“I’m not fragile,” she said.
The smile he gave her was barely one at all. “We are all fragile, Isabelle.” (199)

The conversation above is between Isabelle Rossignol and her father, Julien Rossignol, who, after his return from the Great War, and after his wife’s death, has never been the same.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is about many things – it’s about WWII and how it broke families and individuals, as they witnessed the deaths of many of their loved ones. It’s about how the war changed relationships between friends, neighbors, parents, and children. Mostly, this book is about the bond between two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol and how they risk their lives to keep what is rightfully theirs. Vianne and Isabelle assume that they would have a lifetime to fight with each other, misunderstand each other, to feel regret afterwards, and to still love each other through it all as sisters. However, all of this turn out to be luxuries they cannot afford once WWII begins. The Second World War brings Isabelle, Vianne, and their father back together as family, but it does not allow them time to tell each other what they weren’t able to say before – that they loved each other despite everything, and that they forgive each other.

Isabelle thinks:
“Why hadn’t she told them she loved them every day when she had the chance? And now she would die without ever saying a word to Vianne. Vianne, she thought. Only that. The name. Part prayer, part regret, part good-bye” (363).

Vianne thinks:
“The regret she felt was immense, as was the guilt. What had her last words to her sister been? Don’t come back” (366).

Sisters say things all the time. Sometimes what one sister says to the other can leave a scar, but the same sister comes back to heal the wound. That’s what sisters do. Isabelle and Vianne reminded me of myself and my sister, and it scared me to imagine what they must have felt when they realized there wasn’t any time.

Despite of everything that the war brings, those who manage to survive manage to live through the rest of their lives, while holding on to their memories of the people they have lost. As one of her characters state in the novel, Kristin Hannah’s novel shows that, “Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain” (438).

 

<Works Cited>
Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martins Press, 2015.

“Beloved, You Are Mine”: The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Beloved, You Are Mine”:
The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison tell the story of three women – Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Sethe is a wounded woman. In order to prevent her daughter from experiencing slavery, she decides to end her daughter’s life. It is a decision that only mothers may be able to understand. This decision haunts Sethe, and prevents her from understanding that, whereas Beloved is dead, Denver is still alive. Showing the interesting relationships between mother and her dead daughter, and mother and her daughter who is still alive, Beloved shows the powerful connection that exists between mother and her daughters, as well as between sisters.

Living with her mother and the baby’s ghost in 124, Denver is lonely. Her mother is occupied with the thought of her dead daughter that she does not have enough energy left to pay attention to her daughter who is still alive. At one point, Denver tells Sethe, “I can’t no more. I can’t no more” (14). When Sethe asks, “Can’t what? What can’t you?” Denver says, “I can’t live here. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I can’t live here. Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don’t like me. Girls don’t either” (14). Girls and boys do not talk to Denver because they know Denver’s mother was in prison once, and they know why. Denver also learns that Denver herself had been in prison with her mother when she was only a baby. With her mother who refuses to look at her “[a]s though the size of it was more than vision could bear” (14), and her own fear that her mother may do to her what she did to her sister, Denver is terribly lonely all the time.

Can a mother’s love be powerful enough to kill her daughter? When Sethe killed Beloved, she killed a huge part of herself. No one relationship between mothers and daughters will be the same, and for Sethe’s case – who grew up in slavery – there may be too many risks for mothers and daughters to be able to have a “normal” relationship. Regardless, Sethe loved her daughter fiercely, even if her decision may not be completely understandable for readers.

What Denver needs to realize is that her mother loves her, too. She may not be able to see that because she may not realize that her mother loves both her and her sister, but in different ways. Paul D thinks this is risky. He thinks:

[f]or a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe [she]’d have a little love left over for the next one… (43)

Paul D believes it is in Sethe’s best interests to spare her love for her children, so that she can save herself a little bit when her children are taken away from her. However, Sethe feels differently about the meaning of motherhood. When Paul D reminds her that Denver is a grown child, Sethe tells him, “I don’t care what she is. Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing” (43). Even when Paul D reminds her that she cannot protect Denver forever, Sethe says “I’ll protect her while I’m live and I’ll protect her when I ain’t” (43). For Sethe, motherhood means not just loving her children. It also means protecting them for as long as she can.

Whether it was from Sethe’s fierce love and regret, or Beloved’s fierce love and regret for what happened, Beloved does come back to her mother. This shows that there is an unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Sethe’s pain and suffering is shown when she confesses that “didn’t have the time to explain before because it had to be done quick” (200). However, she believes, or wants to believe, that Beloved had come back to her of her own free will.

Towards the end of the novel, all three women – Denver, Sethe, and Beloved – speak, even though it’s not clear who is saying which part, or whether they are all speaking in unison:

Beloved
You are my sister
You are my daughter
You are my face; you are me
I have found you again; you have come back to me
You are my Beloved
You are mine
You are mine
You are mine. (216)

All mothers are mothers, daughters and sisters. All daughters are mothers, daughters and sisters. The connection between mothers and daughters are powerful, unbreakable, and eternal. Even if circumstances in life prevent them from living peaceful lives, they find each other again. As shown in Beloved, the relationship between mothers and daughters are such that they will always love, protect, and ache for each other.

 

 

<Works Cited>
Morrison, Toni. Beloved a Novel. Vintage International, 2004.