World of Books has reached the landmark of 100 posts. I’ve decided to celebrate it with a review of a short novel by one of my favourite contemporary writers. Sputnik Sweetheart is only the second or third novel I’ve read by Haruki Murakami. But I’ve seen enough to be convinced that he is one of the best novelists around today and I intend to read a lot more of his work.
In some ways, he reminds me a little of Richard Brautigan; an author I loved in my younger days. The American was also influenced by Japanese writing and culture, so it may be that they share some of the same influences. Oddly enough, Brautigan even had a book of stories called The Tokyo-Montana Express. Both can be considered counter-culture writers of sorts because Murakami rejects the work of some of Japan’s literary heavyweights (such as Yukio Mishima) in favour of Western literature.
However, the similarities I see between Murakami and Brautigan come down to two things: the deceptive simplicity of the writing and the use of strange and original metaphors. Sputnik Sweetheart includes similies such as, “I drew the curtain aside, and there was the moon, floating in the sky like some pale, clever orphan” or “Imagine The Greatest Hits of Bobby Darin minus Mack The Knife.That’s what my eyes would be like without you.” Wonderfully imaginative metaphors rich with poetry make a welcome change from tired old clichés.
Sputnik Sweetheart is narrated by a young teacher known simply as K. He is in love with a female friend called Samire, who in turn has fallen for Miu, a woman who runs her own wine business. Unexpected events lead to all temporarily leaving Japan for a Greek Island where one of them goes missing. The book’s intriguing title comes from the fact that Samire is an aspiring writer who is fond of Kerouac, and Miu, being a little older, confuses the word ‘Sputnik’ with ‘Beatnik’.
I should also mention this is a translation. That might seem like a statement of the obvious, but many people read novels without giving it a second thought and don’t consider the implications. In other words, we rely on someone else to give us a true flavor of what Murakami is about. It is only thanks to translators like Philip Gabriel that we are able to enter into the magical world of this Japanese genius.