I stopped reading books.
This shattering statement coming from a literature student should be enough of a proof for any therapist to summarise my evaluation sheet as ‘deeply depressed – allocate to nuthouse right away’.
I used to live and breathe books. Sitting in one extremely uncomfortable and benumbing position all day, just reading, with pins and needles in all of my limbs; not wanting to stand up, eat or leave the room, as if the book and its characters could just disappear like a missed radio broadcast.
I would slowly go into that entrancement, where the outside world seemed hostile and anyone trying to call or approach me in any way was just a buzzing fly, pushing my irritation to the limits.
My relationship with books was so intimate I had to be left alone with them. They would absorb me fully like a literary vortex, making me fight sleep for hours just to finally unveil the plot twist I’ve been yearning for, learn who killed or who died, burst into bitter tears at 3 am or laugh so maniacally my parents would wake up, suspecting a mad asylum patient just broke into their home.
“We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our life. 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’s gone forever.”
But suddenly,after I went to university, all of those contradictory emotions were lost. No more tears, shuddering fear, laughter-caused abdominal pains. The flame was gone.
I stopped reading books.
And then, four days ago, I sprung out of bed one night and reached out to my bookcase like a desperate heroine addict awaken by painful longing, like a drowning castaway. And I grabbed my randomly chosen novel buoy – SPUTNIK SWEETHEART by Haruki Murakami.
This was my first, and surely not last encounter with this Japanese author, the master of intertwining intricate metaphors with ‘human’ narrative and constant mixing of reality with dream fantasy.
“Under the light of the chandeliers, his handsome nose rose up softly, like a rococo cameo.”
Sputnik Sweetheart tells as story of a young callow writer Sumire and an older woman Miu she falls in love with. Sumire’s overwhelming first love and powerful desire – both unrequited due to a mysterious event that made Miu frigid and passionless for life – are told through the eyes of Sumire’s unnamed friend, naturally hopelessly in love with her.
“I closed my eyes and listened carefully for the descendants of Sputnik, even now circling the earth, gravity their only tie to the planet. Lonely metal souls in the unimpeded darkness of space, they meet, pass each other, and part, never to meet again. No words passing between them. No promises to keep.”
This bizarre triangle of love, sexuality and friendship, marked with intoxicating lust and aching hearts, comes together when Sumire disappears ‘just like smoke’ on a tiny, picturesque Greek island, and devastated Miu turns to the narrator for help. His unexpected intervention ends up leading to many answers, but also posing even more questions; are we each other’s ‘fellow travellers’ (the meaning of sputnik in Russian), or is human existence doomed to keep making endless lonely circuits on seperate orbits, as if we were some anonymous satellites?
Murakami’s remarkable prose moved and nourished me after this long, stiffening stupor state, stimulating my reading mechanisms like no other. I sunk into it, deeply and breathlessly, writing down quotes in the middle of the night, shuddering at Miu’s eerie story as if I was reliving it myself, wanting to find Sumire as desperately as the love-stricken narrator.
Sputnik Sweetheart aroused my literary chakras and woke me up from what felt like months of brain hibernation. I am no longer a lonesome satellite, moving in circles, as I reconnected with the best travel companion there is – a book.