On Reading Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami

by satusungai

 Translated by: Halimah

One month ago, on my struggle to finish 1Q84, I’ve declared that I do not want to read more of Murakami works. After 1Q84, I think I get enough. I think I know what Murakami tries to tell through his stories. I’ve captured, more or less, his writing techniques. I think there will be no new things founded even I continue to read his works.

But, right on the time I declared that on Twitter, a friend told me, “if you decide to stop reading Murakami, while you haven’t read Kafka on The Shore and Sputnik Sweetheart, I suggest you to think twice about your decision because you miss a lot of things.” That friend of mine has a great reading list on his Goodreads account. And I trusted each book recommendation he gives.

So, one minutes after declaring to stop reading Murakami, I continued my readings on that jazz lover Japanese writer. To fulfill my curiosity about my friend’s statement, I started to read Sputnik Sweetheart.

It takes approximately two weeks for me to finish Sputnik Sweetheart. I can tell that I’ve been trapped on that book since the first paragraph. No, wait, I even got trapped on the first sentence.

 

In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life.

  

Two days before I reached the last page if Sputnik Sweetheart, I read an article on the web about Stephen King tittled “Why Stephen King Spends Months to Finish His First Sentence.”

For me, that was an interesting article. Why in the world he takes that long to write the first sentence in his novel? For sure, first sentence is important. A writer must have the ability to trap his reader with the first sentence. If he doesn’t, probably, he will be left behind. Even if there’s a possibility that he has something great and important in the middle or the end of his writing. Yet, if he doesn’t put a great impression in the beginning, the readers won’t have mercy to spend their time to reach the middle or the end of the story. May be, there’s plenty of readers who have patience to do that, but I think not all readers have that attitude.

When I read the first paragraph of Sputnik Sweetheart, I recalled the legendary first paragraph by Franz Kafka in his book Metamorphosis. As most of people know (or at least for the Murakami fan like me) Murakami is inspired by Kafka. It’s clearly seen in Kafka on the Shore and his story that published in The New Yorker, “Samsa in Love”.

The opening of Metamorphosis becomes a legend, I suppose, is because its ability to trap the readers. How could you imagine someone waking up from his sleep and found him self transformed into a monstrous vermin? In instant flash, it makes the readers curious and wonder. What happen to the main character? How could he transform into a vermin? Those kinds of questions, will lead the curiosity of the reader and keep them reading the following pages.

This trapping effect is something that I got when I read the first paragraph of Sputnik Sweetheart. With a simple first sentence, Murakami crafted his first paragraph with the sentences that directly show the main conflict of this novel, sharp and shocking.

 

In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life. An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains-flattening everything on its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits. The tornado’s intensity doesn’t abate for a second as it blasts across the ocean, laying waste to Angkor Wat, incinerating an Indian jungle, tigers and all, transforming itself into a Persian desert sandstorm, burying an exotic fortress city under a sea of sand. In short, a love of truly monumental proportions. The person she fell in love with happened to be seventeen years older than Sumire. And was married. And, I should add, was a woman. This is where it all began, and where it all wound up. Almost.

 

Watch how Murakami spreads his traps with his opening paragraph. Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life, and she fell in love with a woman who was seventeen years older than her and she’s married. Each sentence contains a complex problem since the beginning. That’s what made me read the following pages of Sputnik Sweetheart.

Murakami always leave the sign of books that he reads in his writings. For me, it’s important for a reader to know what his favorite writer has been reading. It’s not hard to spot what Murakami read for he always mentions some names such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and etc.

There’s a big question left, is Murakami a fan of Hemingway? I wonder, for I find Hemingway in the dialogues Murakami wrote. Hemingway is known for his strong dialogues. The way Murakami writes his dialogue, in my opinion, looks like an effort to combine Hemingway and Kafka, something unique and a shocking absurdity. That’s trap that Murakami spreads for his readers. ***

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