Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 227 pages.
Read from December 13, 2019 to December 17, 2019.

You know when you feel like you’ve run out of books to read despite having many on your shelf in Kobo? When you’re just uninspired by the selection of books you currently have available to you? Talk about book nerd problems, hey? Thank goodness for libraries. I was on a trip with the family before Christmas and wasn’t impressed with what I had available to me on my Kobo. I had just finished A Chorus of Mushrooms and was in the mood for something by Murakami and my library delivered.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a story about unrequited love, loneliness, and friendship. K is in love with his college friend, Sumire. Sumire is a quirky, creative, dedicated, scattered and an ambitious writer who has never shown any interest in K outside of friendship. In fact, she often bemoans feeling asexual and having never understood the point to sex having never ever felt aroused.  The two of them are close however and call on each other often, even in the late hours of the evening. They have an understanding and trust that makes their bond close. Sumire has given herself a set amount of time to create and become the writer that she wants to be but is struggling. During this time she meets an older woman named Miu. Miu is polished, beautiful, and well put-together and Sumire is instantly drawn to her. When Miu offers her a part-time job Sumire accepts it. Sumire quickly comes to understand what it means to sexually desire someone with Miu. Sumire starts to dress nicer and keep a better routine as well as accompany Miu on her business trips. Sumire keeps in touch with K and is honest with him about how he feels for Miu, though nothing has ever happened between them, yet.  When Sumire accompanies Miu to Greece and suddenly goes missing, K is the first person that Miu contacts to help find their missing friend.

This book is consistent with Murakami’s meditative style with a slight detective twist. I really loved and admired Sumire’s character and felt that she was different than the majority of the other female characters that Murakami portrays. For the first time, the woman in the story was not fully sexually active with the main male character and was definitely more dynamically portrayed. While K was technically the main narrator the book was really more about Sumire and her ambitions and desires and I loved that, would love to see more of that in Murakami’s works, actually. While I find the ending a bit puzzling it is still none the less beautiful and consistent with what I love about Murakami and his writing style. 

 

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

A creative memoir on the presumed life of an absent mother.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 265 pages.
Read from February 28, 2019 to March 1, 2019.

Anaïs never knew her mother’s mother, Susanne, nor did her mother, really. After her grandmother’s passing Anaïs hired a private detective to get the details on why her grandmother was such a fleeting presence in her family’s life. Short-listed for Canada Reads 2019, this is a creative memoir taken from the facts gathered by the private detective in an attempt to piece together the life a woman who abandoned her two young children and caused a void in her family that is felt for generations. The book will be defended by Yanic Truesdale during the Canada Reads 2019 debates at the end of March.

canada-reads-2019-yanic-truesdale
Yanic Truesdale will be defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette during the debates taking place on March 25-29, 2019.

Susanne was originally written in French under the title, La femme qui fuit (The Woman Who Ran Away) and has been beautifully translated into English by Rhonda Mullins. Bravo to Rhonda who has managed to capture the poetic prose of this story in translation.

Susanne is successfully written in the second person and reads like an elegant poem of yearning as Anaïs envisions her grandmother throughout the different stages of her life. The book is far from accusatory and it reads like a real memoir in many aspects. The yearning is for forgiveness, understanding, and for the answer to the one question that neither the author or her mother get an answer to, why did Susanne leave?

Susanne led a tumultuous and intriguing life that included the great depression, political and art revolutions, alcoholism, homelessness, asylums and more. Even with the details unearthed from Susanne’s life, the author can still only speculate as to what drove her to her decisions and imagine how she might have felt in different parts of her life. Why did Susanne decide to abandon her two children, one of whom is Anaïs’ mother, after giving them such tender care for a few years? And then show up at Anaïs’ birth and a few small moments in her mother’s life? Guilt? Remorse? Forced responsibility? As Anaïs speculates, Susanne may have lived with guilt but ultimately may not have been able to face the choices she made, to which, Anaïs forgives her.

What’s the most moving about this book is the wonderful poetic prose which makes for a highly readable book that is easy to connect with. Anaïs is an immensely talented writer whose writing it literary and stimulating while also being highly accessible. I truly enjoyed this novel and felt entwined with Susanne’s gripping story, even if it is only through the speculative hope of her granddaughter.

This engrossing story is going to give the other contender’s in the Canada Reads 2019 debate a run for their money and I am looking forward to hearing how it is received.