Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

I am in the midst of a great reading stretch. Five in a row that have been either very good and/or very readable. It’s an addictive feeling – churning through one enjoyable book after another makes me want to keep going and going. 

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, is one of the books that I found so refreshing and pleasurable to read.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mini Plot Summary: This books follows Klara, an AF (or Artificial Friend), from her early days in a store, to her service as a companion to a young girl. Klara’s purpose is to take care of the child who chooses her. Because she is extremely observant and has a very sophisticated understanding of human nature – especially for a robot! – Klara takes her role seriously, going to great lengths to protect and serve her human companion. 

Image from amazon.com

What I Liked About This Book: On the surface, this is a science fiction novel about a relationship between humans and robots, told from the robot’s perspective. That’s a fun starting point – I loved being able to see the world through the eyes of a non-human. To get Klara’s often amusing, often uncannily perceptive view of humans’ motivations and emotions and interactions. Klara gets so many things wrong… but more wonderfully (and maybe more disturbingly), she gets so many things right. She is adept at understanding how people relate to one another and why. 

Klara was such a charming character, and I fell in love with her. She is so curious, so interested in the world, so determined to understand her surroundings and the humans who people her world. So dedicated to service, no matter the cost. I loved how Ishiguro depicted her. At once humanoid and entirely alien, she experiences her own forms of human emotions: love, embarrassment, insecurity, fear, stress, anxiety, piety.

What I liked more than the overarching story, though, was the way Ishiguro used Klara as a lens for examining some big, universal themes. Love, in many forms (parent and child love; marital love; romantic love; the love of friendship; the love for and from God). What it means to serve, and the relationship between the servant and master and how it changes over time. Loneliness, and the many tools humans devise to stave it off. The various faces we present to the world. Hope, and its power to motivate and its proximity to despair. Faith, and the justifications we make when our faith goes unrewarded, and how bizarre believing in a higher power can seem to an outsider.

On this first reading, the theme of faith really stood out to me as complex and poignant. Klara’s God is the Sun. He is the source of life and nourishment. He can heal the sick and resurrect the dead. I loved how Ishiguro explored faith through Klara’s eyes. What it means to be in the light, what it means to be in the shadows. I found Klara’s utter faith in the Sun baffling and heartbreaking and beautiful and profound.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: Klara lives in a place and time not so unlike our own. Mobile devices (or “oblongs” as she calls them) are means of communication and connection and distraction. Humans move about in cars. Children go to school (although a subset of children attend school virtually). Adults have jobs that require commutes. There are vague references that imply continued decay of society: rampant unemployment, anarchic communities, heavy pollution, severe gaps between socioeconomic classes. While I found it easy to sink into the not-so-distant future of Klara’s world, I did wish that Ishiguro gave us more. I understand why he didn’t – the story isn’t really about the universe of the book, it is about Klara’s specific experience – but I still found myself with questions. For instance, there is a whole storyline about measures some parents take to give their children a leg up and how it can go terribly wrong… and I think I had a better sense of what was going on at the end of the book, but not a good sense. And I found it fascinating! I wanted more. You get little hints and breadcrumbs that help build out the surroundings… but overall, the world-building was sparse and could have benefited from a little more context. 

Should You Read This Book? I found this book to be so lovely. It was full of hope even as it broke my heart. There’s a reason why it’s getting so much hype. You should check it out for yourself.

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