I love best books of the year lists from around the internet, and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro appeared on many of those lists. Even though it was not one I thought I would like, curiosity got to me, and I decided to see what all the buzz was about. Well, I am excited to say I loved it, and if you love to delve into human behavior and question what it means “to be human” through how we connect with others, come to understand ourselves and each other, this is one not to be missed. It is an excellent one to think deeply about, and of course, I couldn’t help but take the internet and search what I could about this moving and profound story. I will back in another post where I will be thinking deeply and geeking out, with my thoughts along with what I picked up around the net.
What the Book is about
The story is set in the future, where children no longer go to school. They learn on devices at home. They are prone to isolation and loneliness, much like in the real world. Technology has replaced jobs, and many people are unemployed.
Sounds familiar!? A few elements to the story feel like pandemic life; however, Ishiguro says that’s purely coincidental.
“I finished the book before the pandemic, and I have to say, [the pandemic] took me completely by surprise,” he says. “I couldn’t have dreamt that something like this would happen. … In the novel, I’m talking about a society that is undergoing profound changes, and it doesn’t quite know how to reorganize itself.” ~ Ishiguro from an interview I found.
We meet Klara, a solar-powered artificial friend designed to be companions to children. She becomes a companion to Josie, who has a mysterious illness. Through the view of Klara, who has a talent for her perception and observation, themes of love, parenting, loss, sacrifices, loneliness, and class are explored.
Parents can have their children’s “intelligence” genetically enhanced called “lifted” A caste system has been created with the lifted on top, giving the “lifted” children more advantages than those who are not.
What I loved
Ishiguro uses artificial intelligence to explore what it is to be human. Klara is an unforgettable, almost perfect character because she is artificial, and here she is used metaphorically. She has a talent for her perception and observation, and I was fascinated by Klara’s emotional intelligence depth. She experiences positive emotions like empathy, compassion, and kindness and lacks darker ones like jealousy and selfishness. I enjoyed seeing her perception of the events she sees and muses over. She inspires us to muse about ourselves and others. She is a metaphor for what it’s like to love unconditionally and be a perfect parent. I loved the insight Klara teaches us about humans and the themes explored in the story.
“It shouldn’t be that surprising, really, though, that an artificial creature could actually solicit our sympathies as much as a human one. Because after all, characters in books are artificial. We’re making that kind of leap anyway. When we read books and you get weepy over the fate of some character, we’re not weeping over a real person. We’ve put ourselves into some kind of space where we’re relating to created beings. At some level, we’re responding metaphorically because we think that it impinges, in some metaphorical relationship to our real lives, I suppose. I never thought it was going to actually be an intrinsic problem in terms of how my readers would feel because my main character was artificial” ~ Ishiguro
“The more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.” ~Klara
Loneliness is one of my favorite themes to explore, and here Klara observes how humans try to fight off loneliness and hide their vulnerability to it.
“They fear loneliness, and that is why they behave as they do” ~ Klara.
What I didn’t love as much
Josie has a mysterious illness is from being “lifted”. Neither is fully explained and for us to draw our conclusions. I was confused and frustrated that I didn’t understand what “lifted” meant. While I love to draw my own conclusions at times I would of liked this explained more in the story.
Klara is almost childlike and naive as she learns the darker things about the human world and sometimes can come across as unconvincing with her childlike faith as she tries to protect Josie.
Ishiguro referred to the story as “a cheerful, optimistic book .”I won’t describe it the same. I thought it was a realistic, profound, and insightful look at the truth that humanity is fundamentally selfish. It’s hard to be optimistic about that, but maybe there is hope for humanity.
Penny for your thoughts. Have you read this one? Want to read it? I will be back with a discussion post.