Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

My second Murakami novel after Norwegian Wood. The book is all about love and loneliness is modern times. Written in the first person, the main character tries to capture the love he felt for Sumire and depicts the love that she felt for another woman. Several biting pieces from the novel that I just couldn't resist quoting. It ends in tragedy finally as Sumire disappears mysteriously.

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 fields up int eh 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 everything, 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 17 years older than Sumire. And was married. And, I should add, was a woman. This is where it all began, and where it all ended. Almost.

About the main character with respect to whom the book is written in the first person.

The upshot of all this is that when I was young I began to draw an invisible boundary between myself and other people. No matter who I was dealing with. I maintained a safe distance, carefully monitoring the person's attitude so that they would not get closer. I didn't easily swallow what other people told me. My only passion were books and music. As you may guess, I lived a lonely life.

To some extent, I am able to feel for him. Sometimes, a bibliophile's life is lonely but quite often it is out of choice rather than necessity. You immerse yourself into books of all kinds, imagine yourself in all kinds of roles, and draw parallels between the books you read and your own life. In the end it seems better than the real thing. Why venture out into the world when a book in your hand lets you feel just about everything that mankind has ever felt?

I imagined how wonderful it would be if indeed we could be lovers. I longed for the warmth of her skin on mine. I pictured us married, living together. But I have to face the fact that Sumire had no such romantic feeling for me, let alone sexual interest. Occasionally she'd stay over at my apartment after we'd talked into the small hours, but there was never even the slightest hint of romance. Come to 2 or 3 am and she'd yawn, crawl into bed, sink her face into my pillow, and fall fast asleep. I'd spread out some bedding on the floor and lie down, but I couldn't sleep, my mind full of fantasies, continuous thoughts, self-loathing. Sometimes the inevitable physical reactions would cause me grief, and I'd lie awake in misery until dawn. 
It was hard to accept that she had almost no feelings, maybe none at all for me as a man. This hurt so bad at times it felt like someone was gouging out my guts with a knife. Still, the time I spent with her was more precious than anything. She helped me forget the undertone of loneliness in my life. She expanded the outer edges of my world, helped me draw a deep, soothing breath. Only Sumire could do that for me.


But I couldn't love her. For whatever reason, that unconditional, natural intimacy Sumire and I had just wasn't there. A thin, transparent veil always came between us. Visible or not, a barrier remained. Awkward silences came on us all the time – particularly when we said goodbye. That never happened with me and Sumire. Behind with this woman confirmed one undeniable fact: I needed Sumire more than ever. 
After the woman left, I went for a walk alone, wandered aimlessly for a while, then dropped by a bar near the station and had a Canadian Club on the rocks. As always at times like those, I felt like the most wretched person alive. I quickly drained my first drink and ordered another, closed my eyes and thought of Sumire. Sumire, topless, sunbathing on the white sands of a Greek island. At the table next to mine four college boys and girls were drinking beer, laughing and having a good time. Ann old number by Huey Lewis and the News was playing. I could smell pizza baking. 
When did my youth slip away from me? I suddenly thought. It was over, wasn't it? Seemed just like yesterday I was still only half grown up. Huey Lewis and the News had a couple of hit songs then. Not so many years ago. And now here I was, inside a closed circuit, spinning my wheel. Knowing I wasn't getting anywhere, but spinning just the same. I had to. Had to keep that up or I wouldn't be able to survive.

"When did my youth slip away from me?" How many times have I thought the same? And how many times have I been glad to be rid of it? In the end, if you feel any pain for lost time, continue feeling it so that you make the most of the times ahead. He has a girlfriend who makes him happy. Yet he longs for Sumire. So what if his girlfriend doesn't make him feel the same as Sumire?

But all I felt was an incomparable loneliness. Before I knew, the world around was drained of colour, from the shabby mountaintop, the ruins of those empty feelings, I could see my whole life stretching out into the future. It looked just like an illustration in a science fiction novel I read as a child: the desolate surface of a deserted planet. No sign of life at all. Each day seemed to last for ever, the air either boiling hot or freezing. The spaceship that had brought me there had disappeared, and I was stuck. I'd have to survive on my own. 
All over again I understood how important, how irreplaceable, Sumire was to me. In her own special way she'd kept me tethered to the world. As I talked to her and hear her stories, my mind quietly expanded, and I could see things I had never seen before. Without even trying, we grew close. Like a pair of young lovers undressing in front of each other, Sumire and I had exposed our hearts to one another, an experience I never had with any one else, anywhere. We cherished what we had together, though we never put into words how very precious it was. 
Of course it hurt that we could never love each other in a physical way. We would have been far happier if we had. But that was like the tides, the change of seasons – something immutable, and immovable destiny we could never alter. No matter how cleverly we might shelter it, our delicate friendship wasn't going to last for ever. We were bound to reach a dead end. That was painfully clear. 
I loved Sumire more than anyone else and wanted her more than anything in the world. And I couldn't just shape those feelings, for there was nothing to take their place. 
I dreamed that someday there would be a sudden, major transformation, even if the chances of it coming true were slim, I could dream about it, couldn't I? But I knew it would never come to. 
Like the tide receding, the shoreline washed clean, with Sumire gone I was left in a distorted, empty world. A gloomy, cold world in which what she and I had would never ever take place again. 
We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our lives. Like a small flame. A careful, fortunate few cherish that flame, nurture it, hold it as a torch to light their way. But once that flame goes out, it is gone for ever. What I had lost was not just Sumire. I had lost that precious flame.

All good and great things come to an end. That is what he means by nurturing a flame. The only way to nurture a flame may be to not let it burn all out. But would that feel the same in that case? Is there no other way to let oneself go and yet let the flame live on forever? Would sure as hell like know the answer to that one.

Tomorrow I'll get on a plane and fly back to Tokyo. The summer holidays are nearly over, and I have to step once more in that endless stream of the everyday. There's a place for me there. My apartment's there, my desk, my classroom, my pupils. Quiet days await me, novels to read. The occasional affair.
 But tomorrow I'll be a different person, never again the person I was. Not that anyone will notice after I am back in Japan. On the outside nothing will be different. But something inside has burnt up and vanished. Blood has been shed, and something inside me is gone. Page turned down, without a word, that something makes its exit. The door opens; the door shuts. The light goes out. This is the last day for the person I am right now. The very last twilight. When dawn come, the person I am won't be here any more. Someone else will occupy this body. 
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?

I guess this is the usual existential angst. Most of us feel so in these modern times, when all other basic needs are taken for granted. So eventually it is love that burns us out. But can we not look at love as an abstract concept? A concept that can be carried over in another form when one dies out?

So that is how we live our lives. No matter how deep and how fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that is stolen from us – that is snatched right out of our hands – even if we are left completely changed people with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way in silence. We draw ever nearer to our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness.

No comments:

Post a Comment