Reviews and useful websites for Murakami Haruki:

Short Reveiw:

Sputnik Sweetheart
by Haruki Murakami,
Translated by Philip Gabriel
Random House, Inc
Published April 2001, 210 pages, cloth


Combining the early, straightforward seductions of Norwegian Wood and the complex mysteries of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, this new novel—his seventh translated into English—is Haruki Murakami at his most satisfying and representative best.


The scenario is as simple as it is uncomfortable: a college student falls in love (once and for all, despite everything that transpires afterward) with a classmate whose devotion to Kerouac and an untidy writerly life precludes any personal commitments—until she meets a considerably older and far more sophisticated businesswoman. It is through this wormhole that she enters Murakami’s surreal yet humane universe, to which she serves as guide both for us and for her frustrated suitor, now a teacher. In the course of her travels from parochial Japan through Europe and ultimately to an island off the coast of Greece, she disappears without a trace, leaving only lineaments of her fate: computer accounts of bizarre events and stories within stories. The teacher, summoned to assist in the search for her, experiences his own ominous, haunting visions, which lead him nowhere but home to Japan—and there, under the expanse of deep space and the still-orbiting Sputnik, he finally achieves a true understanding of his beloved.


A love story, a missing-person story, a detective story—all enveloped in a philosophical mystery—and, finally, a profound meditation on human longing.

from the Seminary Coop Page at: http://www.semcoop.com/detail/0375411690 (Link no longer valid).

The narrator mentions (p. 13) that he was reading a novel by Paul Nizan when he meets Sumire for the first time. Who the heck is Paul Nizan?

 

In this realm of odd little intertextual references, I have always been struck by the locale, the Greek island that was supposedly a favorite refuge for British writers in the 1960s (see p. 90). I thought of John Fowles' novel, The Magus, and besides the locale, that one scene where K. hears the music up on the hill and goes into some kind of trance and his cells became rearranged as he sunk into "the sea of consciousness to the very bottom," (170) was very reminscent of scenes in The Magus. So, I did a little digging and, sure enough, there is a Greek island called Spetsai or Spetses (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spetsai) which was the model for the island called Phraxos in The Magus. On this website you can see some nice pictures of the island: http://www.hidden-greece.co.uk/destinations/Athens_Argolid/spetsai.html

 

As far as Fowles' background is concerned, after serving in the military at the end of WWII, he spent four years at Oxford, where he discovered the writings of the French existentialists. In particular he admired Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, whose writings corresponded with his own ideas about conformity and the will of the individual. He received a degree in French in 1950 and began to consider a career as a writer. Several teaching jobs followed: a year lecturing in English literature at the University of Poitiers, France; two years teaching English at Anargyrios College on the Greek island of Spetsai; and finally, between 1954 and 1963, teaching English at St. Godric's College in London, where he ultimately served as the department head.

The time spent in Greece was of great importance to Fowles. During his tenure on the island he began to write poetry and to overcome a long-time repression about writing. Between 1952 and 1960 he wrote several novels but offered none to a publisher, considering them all incomplete in some way and too lengthy. In late 1960 Fowles completed the first draft of The Collector in just four weeks. He continued to revise it until the summer of 1962, when he submitted it to a publisher; it appeared in the spring of 1963 and was an immediate best-seller. The critical acclaim and commercial success of the book allowed Fowles to devote all of his time to writing....Then in 1965, The Magus--drafts of which Fowles had been working on for over a decade-- was published. Among the seven novels that Fowles has written, The Magus has perhaps generated the most enduring interest, becoming something of a cult novel, particularly in the U.S. With parallels to Shakespeare's The Tempest and Homer's The OdysseyThe Magus is a traditional quest story made complex by the incorporation of dilemmas involving freedom, hazard and a variety of existential uncertainties. Fowles compared it to a detective story because of the way it teases the reader: "You mislead them ideally to lead them into a greater truth...it's a trap which I hope will hook the reader," he says. This information on Fowles is taken from: http://www.fowlesbooks.com/biography.htm

We can read a litle more about the plot of The Magus below.

The book is narrated by Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who takes a teaching job on a Greek island only to be pulled into a complicated game of deception by the resident eccentric millionaire named Conchis (whose name seems to be a pun on conscious) who specializes in hypnotism and psychological manipulation, and the plot occasioned by his trickery is so convoluted it makes Lost seem like one of Aesop's Fables. Is the mysterious woman who comes to dinner the ghost of Conchis' dead lover? Or a schizophrenic patient? Or an actress held against her will? And was that a satyr chasing a nymph through Conchis' backyard?...Fowles' narrator is a man of no special talent or distinction, who nonetheless feels life owes him more than it has offered. He's blessed with an education, a middle-class life and even a love interest with whom he sleeps late and goes to French movies. And yet he finds himself wondering: Is this it? As he says, with typical myopia, "The pattern of destiny seemed pretty clear: down and down, and down."Getting mixed up with Conchis offers his life a shape and proves that he is special. For a while anyway, he believes that his old life — his real life in the real world, with its small victories and disappointments — was just a dull smear of dust on the outside of the magical life he was supposed to live. (From NPR, http://www.npr.org/2012/08/27/150727161/the-magus-a-thrilling-chilling-guilty-pleasure)

And as the NYT times says, "The Magus" is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical--it is, in spite of itself, convincing. It is, in fact, a trick ("magus" means magician or conjurer)--a trick about conviction. The stupefying thing is that Mr. Fowles has pulled it off. The book seems to have its own energy; it reverberates in the mind.

The plot can be only inadequately summarized. Nicholas Urfe, a youngish, charming, intelligent and rather callous Oxford graduate "handsomely equipped to fail," takes up with Alison, an Australian girl he meets at a party in London. Their affair becomes serious ("In our age it is not sex that raises its ugly head, but love"). This is more than Nicholas's effete cynicism can stand, so he leaves Alison to accept a job as an English instructor at the Lord Byron School, a sort of Eton-Harrow enclave on the Greek island of Phraxos, "only a look north from where Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon."

Bored, immeasurably depressed by the self-revelation that he is not, as he had thought, a talented poet ("I felt no consolation in this knowledge, but only a red anger that evolution could allow such sensitivity and such inadequacy to co-exist in the same mind"), out of phase with the throb of the sultry, white-sunned Mediterranean island. Nicholas contemplates suicide, then takes to long solitary walks. On one of these walks he meets a wealthy English-born Greek named Maurice Conchis who may or may or may not have collaborated with the Nazis during the war and now lives as a recluse on his palatial, art- encrusted island estate. Conchis is the magus.

The estate is known as Salle d'Attente (the Waiting Room), and it is here that Nicholas is ushered into the mysteries--Conchis's paradoxical views on life and his eccentric masques which, Nicholas later learns, are called "the godgame." (http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/31/specials/fowles-magus1.html)

See also other reviews here and below:

http://runningdownhill.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/sputnik-sweetheart/

 

http://www.murakami.ch/hm/biography/main.html

 

http://www.murakami.ch/about_hm/bookreviews/bookreview_sputnik_sweetheart.html

 

http://dir.salon.com/books/review/2001/04/19/murakami/index.html

 

http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/murakamih/sputniks.htm

 

http://www.hackwriters.com/SputnikSweetheart.htm

 

http://books.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4192718,00.html

 

http://www.bevvincent.com/onyx/murakami-sputnik.html

 

 

Book Review By John Marcel
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

http://www.allreaders.com/BookRView.asp?BRID=10811


In this novel K, a primary school teacher is in love with his friend
Sumire. Quirky Sumire regularly calls K at 3 in the morning to discuss
life and receive advice from K but she has no sexual feelings for K. K
has an affair with the mother of one of his pupils to placate his lust
for Sumire. Sumire is an aspiring writer who lives on a small stipend
from her parents until one day she meets Miu a woman 17 years her
senior who runs a business importing wine from Europe. Sumire
goes to work as Miu's personal assistant and together they travel to
Europe. Sumire is madly in love and lust with Miu and one day
throwing caution to the wind she makes her move on Miu. However
the feelings are not reciprocal and it cannot be. Afterwards Sumire
disappears like smoke and K travels to Greece to help find her.
Murakami returns to his surreal roots with Miu explaining how her
hair went white overnight after seeing herself from the top of a ferris
wheel making love in her flat to a man she was trying to avoid and
with K encountering a mysterious band playing late at night on a
hilltop. In this novel the characters all live in their own world and each
is lost in this space like the satellite of the title. The novel explores
love, sexuality and the fragility of friendships and acquaintances and
we are left brooding on our own friendships that have lapsed. This
wonderful simply written book is another masterpiece by Murakami.

 

See an interview with Murakami by Laura Miller at:

http://www.salon.com/books/int/1997/12/cov_si_16int.html

Here is a little sample, a teaser:

 

I'm the exception. Even the writers in Japan have made a society, but not me. That's one reason why I keep escaping from Japan. That's my privilege. I can go anywhere. In Japan the writers have made up a literary community, a circle, a society. I think 90 percent of Japan's writers live in Tokyo. Naturally, they make a community. There are groups and customs, and so they are tied up in a way. It's ridiculous, I guess. If you're a writer, an author, you're free to do anything, go anywhere, and that's the most important thing to me. So, naturally, they mostly don't like me. I don't like elitism. I am not missed when I'm gone.

Do they have a problem with what you write?

I love pop culture -- the Rolling Stones, the Doors, David Lynch, things like that. That's why I said I don't like elitism. I like horror films, Stephen King, Raymond Chandler, detective stories. I don't want to write those things. What I want to do is use those structures, not the content. I like to put my content in that structure. That's my way, my style. So both of those kinds of writers don't like me. Entertainment writers don't like me, and serious literature people don't like me. I'm kind of in-between, doing a new kind of thing. That's why I couldn't find my position in Japan for many years. But I'm feeling that things are changing drastically. I'm gaining more territory. I have had my very loyal readers in these 15 years or so. They're buying my books, and they're on my side. The writers and critics are not on my side.

You say that imagination is very important in your works. Sometimes your novels are very realistic, and then sometimes they get very ... metaphysical.

I write weird stories. I don't know why I like weirdness so much. Myself, I'm a very realistic person. I don't trust anything New Age -- or reincarnation, dreams, Tarot, horoscopes. I don't trust anything like that at all. I wake up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. I'm very realistic. But when I write, I write weird. That's very strange. When I'm getting more and more serious, I'm getting more and more weird. When I want to write about the reality of society and the world, it gets weird. Many people ask me why, and I can't answer that. But I recognized when I was interviewing those 63 ordinary people -- they were very straightforward, very simple, very ordinary, but their stories were sometimes very weird. That was interesting.

Sputnik Sweetheart
Haruki Murakami, trans Philip Gabriel
229pp, Harvill, £12

'Why do people have to be so lonely? What's the point of it all?' muses 'K', Murakami's mild-mannered narrator as he retreats from a Greek island. No ordinary anguish here - Sumire, the sulky object of his desire, has 'disappeared. Like smoke'.

If 'resolution' isn't a key word, you may be in for a treat, as 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.

As the book opens, Sumire is experiencing first love, 'a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains'. Her desire, although not her affection, is unrequited by glamorous wine merchant Miu, a woman 17 years her senior. Sumire updates her best friend K on developments in urgent chain-smoking 3am communications from a phone box. K has become adept at concealing his true feelings and offers advice and support - but much of the narrative involves his detailed reconstruction of Sumire's desire. 'Deep within Miu's eyes, as if in a quiet pool in a swift stream, wordless currents vied with one another. Only gradually did these clashing currents settle.'

Is this Sumire's exaggerated telephone description, or the overheated imagination of K, condemned to vicarious thrills? It's unclear, but the structure of retelling is fascinating: male author creates a non-starter lesbian affair seen through the wistful eyes of a third party. Murakami doesn't engage in any conventional coming-out discussion - initially Sumire feels that Miu 'happened to be a woman' - but, again, the interest lies in K's ambivalent response to the fact.

Despite allowing himself a certain amount of grief that Sumire does not feel for him 'as a man', he seems to have her best interests at heart - or does he? Murakami treads an intriguingly fine line.

When Sumire, reader of scientific articles, amusingly decides that her lesbianism must be linked to a small bone in her ear, K responds that 'any explanation or logic that explains anything so easily has a hidden trap in it_ don't leap to any conclusions'.

There's a suspicion here that his apparent sagacity stems from ulterior motives, but he staunchly represses his desire for Sumire, and they talk concepts and metaphors instead.

Murakami omits direct Japanese cultural references - the friends listen to Bach, love Marc Bolan and discuss Kerouac which, combined with the American English translation, gives the novel a strange flavour. There's a sense of rootlessness and a dislocation from their immediate surroundings in K and Sumire's conversations on dead icons, and this enhances the sense of the characters being adrift in a foreign land which is their own. Even Sumire's name for her lover, Sputnik Sweetheart, is based on Miu mishearing her reference to Beatniks in their first tentative conversation.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2001/jun/03/fiction.harukimurakami