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 in 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.
At the time, Sumire--Violet in Japanese--was struggling
to become a writer. No matter how many choices life
might bring her way, it was novelist or nothing. Her
resolve was a regular Rock of Gibraltar. Nothing could
come between her and her faith in literature.
After she graduated from a public high school in Kanagawa
Prefecture, she entered the liberal arts department
of a cozy little private college in Tokyo. She found
the college totally out of touch, a lukewarm, dispirited
place, and she loathed it-and found her fellow students
(which would include me, I'm afraid) hopelessly dull,
second-rate specimens. Unsurprisingly, then, just before
her junior year, she just up and quit. Staying there
any longer, she concluded, was a waste of time. I think
it was the right move, but if I can be allowed a mediocre
generalization, don't pointless things have a place,
too, in this far-from-perfect world? Remove everything
pointless from an imperfect life, and it'd lose even
Sumire was a hopeless romantic, set in her ways-a
bit innocent, to put a nice spin on it. Start her talking,
and she'd go on nonstop, but if she was with someone
she didn't get along with-most people in the world,
in other words-she barely opened her mouth. She smoked
too much, and you could count on her to lose her ticket
every time she rode the train. She'd get so engrossed
in her thoughts at times that she'd forget to eat, and
she was as thin as one of those war orphans in an old
Italian movie-like a stick with eyes. I'd love to show
you a photo of her, but I don't have any. She detested
having her photograph taken-no desire to leave behind
for posterity a Portrait of the Artist as a Young (Wo)Man.
If there were a photograph of Sumire taken at that time,
I know it would be a valuable record of how special
certain people are.
I'm getting the order of events mixed up. The woman
Sumire fell in love with was named Miu. At least that's
what everyone called her. I don't know her real name,
a fact that caused problems later on, but again I'm
getting ahead of myself. Miu was Korean by nationality,
but until she decided to study Korean when she was in
her midtwenties, she didn't speak a word of the language.
She was born and raised in Japan and studied at a music
academy in France, so she was fluent in both French
and English in addition to Japanese. She always dressed
well, in a refined way, with expensive yet modest accessories,
and she drove a twelve-cylinder navy-blue Jaguar.
The first time Sumire met Miu, she talked to her about
Jack Kerouac's novels. Sumire was absolutely nuts about
Kerouac. She always had her literary Idol of the Month,
and at that point it happened to be the out-of-fashion
Kerouac. She carried a dog-eared copy of On the Road
or Lonesome Traveler stuck in her coat pocket, thumbing
through it every chance she got. Whenever she ran across
lines she liked, she'd mark them in pencil and commit
them to memory like they were Holy Writ. Her favorite
lines were from the fire lookout section of Lonesome
Traveler. Kerouac spent three lonely months in a
cabin on top of a high mountain, working as a fire lookout.
Sumire especially liked this part:
No man should go through life without once
experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness,
finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby
learning his true and hidden strength.
"Don't you just love it?" she said. "Every day you stand
on top of a mountain, make a three-hundred-sixty-degree
sweep, checking to see if there're any fires. And that's
it. You're done for the day. The rest of the time you
can read, write, whatever you want. At night scruffy bears
hang around your cabin. That's the life! Compared with
that, studying literature in college is like chomping
down on the bitter end of a cucumber."
"OK," I said, "but someday you'll have to come down
off the mountain." As usual, my practical, humdrum opinions
didn't faze her.
Sumire wanted to be like a character in a Kerouac
novel-wild, cool, dissolute. She'd stand around, hands
shoved deep in her coat pockets, her hair an uncombed
mess, staring vacantly at the sky through her black
plastic-frame Dizzy Gillespie glasses, which she wore
despite her twenty-twenty vision. She was invariably
decked out in an oversize herringbone coat from a secondhand
store and a pair of rough work boots. If she'd been
able to grow a beard, I'm sure she would have.
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. Still, 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
I might as well just come right out and say it. I
was in love with Sumire. I was attracted to her from
the first time we talked, and soon there was no turning
back. For a long time she was the only thing I could
think about. I tried to tell her how I felt, but somehow
the feelings and the right words couldn't connect. Maybe
it was for the best. If I had been able to tell her
my feelings, she would have just laughed at me.
While Sumire and I were friends, I went out with two
or three other girls. It's not that I don't remember
the exact number. Two, three-it depends on how you count.
Add to this the girls I slept with once or twice, and
the list would be a little longer. Anyhow, while I made
love to these other girls, I thought about Sumire. Or
at least, thoughts of her grazed a corner of my mind.
I imagined I was holding her. Kind of a caddish thing
to do, but I couldn't help myself.
Let me get back to how Sumire and Miu met.
Miu had heard of Jack Kerouac and had a vague sense
that he was a novelist of some kind. What kind of novelist,
though, she couldn't recall.
"Kerouac . . . Hmm . . . Wasn't he a Sputnik?"
Sumire couldn't figure out what she meant. Knife and
fork poised in midair, she gave it some thought. "Sputnik?
You mean the first satellite the Soviets sent up, in
the fifties? Jack Kerouac was an American novelist.
I guess they do overlap in terms of generation. . .
"Isn't that what they called the writers back then?"
Miu asked. She traced a circle on the table with her
fingertip, as if rummaging through some special jar
full of memories.
"Sputnik . . . ?"
"The name of a literary movement. You know-how they
classify writers in various schools of writing. Like
Shiga Naoya was in the White Birch School."
Finally it dawned on Sumire. "Beatnik!"
Miu lightly dabbed at the corner of her mouth with
a napkin. "Beatnik-Sputnik. I never can remember those
kinds of terms. It's like the Kenmun Restoration or
the Treaty of Rapallo. Ancient history."
A gentle silence descended on them, suggestive of
the flow of time. "The Treaty of Rapallo?" Sumire asked.
Miu smiled. A nostalgic, intimate smile, like a treasured
old possession pulled out of the back of a drawer. Her
eyes narrowed in an utterly charming way. She reached
out and, with her long, slim fingers, gently mussed
Sumire's already tousled hair. It was such a sudden
yet natural gesture that Sumire could only return the
Ever since that day, Sumire's private name for Miu
was Sputnik Sweetheart. Sumire loved the sound of it.
It made her think of Laika, the dog. The man-made satellite
streaking soundlessly across the blackness of outer
space. The dark, lustrous eyes of the dog gazing out
the tiny window. In the infinite loneliness of space,
what could the dog possibly be looking at?
This Sputnik conversation took place at a wedding
reception for Sumire's cousin at a posh hotel in Akasaka.
Sumire wasn't particularly close to her cousin; in fact,
they didn't get along at all. She'd just as soon be
tortured as attend one of these receptions, but she
couldn't back out of this one. She and Miu were seated
next to each other at one of the tables. Miu didn't
go into all the details, but it seemed she'd tutored
Sumire's cousin on piano-or something along those lines-when
she was taking the entrance exams for the university
music department. It wasn't a long or very close relationship,
clearly, but Miu felt obliged to attend.
In the instant Miu touched her hair, Sumire fell in
love, like she was crossing a field and bang! a bolt
of lightning zapped her right in the head. Something
akin to an artistic revelation. Which is why, at that
point, it didn't matter to Sumire that the person she
fell in love with happened to be a woman.
I don't think Sumire ever had what you'd call a lover.
In high school she had a few boyfriends, guys she'd
go to movies with, go swimming with. I couldn't picture
any of those relations ever getting very deep. Sumire
was too focused on becoming a novelist to really fall
for anybody. If she did experience sex--or something
close to it--in high school, I'm sure it would have
been less out of sexual desire or love than literary
"To be perfectly frank, sexual desire has me baffled,"
Sumire told me once, making a sober face. This was just
before she quit college, I believe; she'd downed five
banana daiquiris and was pretty drunk. "You know-how
it all comes about. What's your take on it?"
"Sexual desire's not something you understand," I
said, giving my usual middle-of-the-road opinion. "It's
She scrutinized me for a while, like I was some machine
run by a heretofore unheard-of power source. Losing
interest, she stared up at the ceiling, and the conversation
petered out. No use talking to him about that, she must
Sumire was born in Chigasaki. Her home was near the
seashore, and she grew up with the dry sound of sand-filled
wind blowing against her windows. Her father ran a dental
clinic in Yokohama. He was remarkably handsome, his
well-formed nose reminding you of Gregory Peck in Spellbound.
Sumire didn't inherit that handsome nose, nor, according
to her, did her brother. Sumire found it amazing that
the genes that produced that nose had disappeared. If
they really were buried forever at the bottom of the
gene pool, the world was a sadder place. That's how
wonderful this nose was.
Sumire's father was an almost mythic figure to the
women in the Yokohama area who needed dental care. In
the examination room he always wore a surgical cap and
large mask, so the only thing the patient could see
was a pair of eyes and ears. Even so, it was obvious
how attractive he was. His beautiful, manly nose swelled
suggestively under the mask, making his female patients
blush. In an instant-whether their dental plan covered
the costs was beside the point-they fell in love.
Sumire's mother passed away of a congenital heart
defect when she was just thirty-one. Sumire hadn't quite
turned three. The only memory she had of her mother
was a vague one, of the scent of her skin. Just a couple
of photographs of her remained-a posed photo taken at
her wedding and a snapshot taken right after Sumire
was born. Sumire used to pull out the photo album and
gaze at the pictures. Sumire's mother was-to put it
mildly-a completely forgettable person. A short, humdrum
hairstyle, clothes that made you wonder what she could
have been thinking, an ill-at-ease smile. If she'd taken
one step back, she would have melted right into the
Sumire was determined to brand her mother's face on
her memory. Then she might someday meet her in her dreams.
They'd shake hands, have a nice chat. But things weren't
that easy. Try as she might to remember her mother's
face, it soon faded. Forget about dreams-if Sumire had
passed her mother on the street, in broad daylight,
she wouldn't have known her.
Sumire's father hardly ever spoke of his late wife.
He wasn't a talkative man to begin with, and in all
aspects of life-like they were some kind of mouth infection
he wanted to avoid catching-he never talked about his
feelings. Sumire had no memory of ever asking her father
about her dead mother. Except for once, when she was
still very small; for some reason she asked him, "What
was my mother like?" She remembered this conversation
Her father looked away and thought for a moment before
replying. "She was good at remembering things," he said.
"And she had nice handwriting." A strange way of describing
a person. Sumire was waiting expectantly, snow-white
first page of her notebook open, for nourishing words
that could have been a source of warmth and comfort-a
pillar, an axis, to help prop up her uncertain life
here on this third planet from the sun. Her father should
have said something that his young daughter could have
held on to. But Sumire's handsome father wasn't going
to speak those words, the very words she needed most.
Sumire's father remarried when she was six, and two
years later her younger brother was born. Her new mother
wasn't pretty either. On top of which she wasn't so
good at remembering things, and her handwriting wasn't
any great shakes. She was a kind and fair person, though.
That was a lucky thing for little Sumire, the brand-new
stepdaughter. No, lucky isn't the right word. After
all, her father had chosen the woman. He might not have
been the ideal father, but when it came to choosing
a mate, he knew what he was doing.
Excerpted from Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki
MurakamiCopyright 2001 by Haruki Murakami.Excerpted
by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House,
Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing
from the publisher.