Klara and the Sun

AuthorKazuo Ishiguro
FinishedDecember 31, 2021
Rating4.2 / 5

Goodreads link

Klara and the Sun explores themes of consciousness and what makes us human. It is told from the point of view of Klara, who is an AF (Artificial Friend), or a humanoid robot meant to be companions for lonely teenagers. She is very observant, picking up on many details of the life around her that other AFs and humans may miss. By observing the world around her, she constructs her own understanding of the world, of which the “Sun” is one of them. The AFs get powered through solar power, so it makes sense that AFs venerate the Sun in some way — the Sun literally keeps them alive. However, through her observations, Klara makes connections that the Sun can bring old lovers together and in some cases bring people back to life, and later in the story when humans close to Klara get sick, Klara resorts to religion-like praying to the Sun to show His Kindness and mercy and generosity.

Klara is adopted by Josie, a teenager with a mysterious illness. Klara’s mission is to help Josie get better. As we understand the world through Klara’s observations, we find ourselves in a future perhaps not too far from today — one in which hyper-intelligent machines have begun to take over human jobs; unemployed humans (”post-employment”) congregate in mobs and riots; and children must be “lifted” (likely genetically), introducing more inequality in the world. In order to save Josie, the question of what is human and what is our individual identity is raised often.

Some Spoilers

I liked the book and it leaves me hanging because so many details about this world is blurred. What is Father doing now? What is Mother’s job? What did Rick end up doing if he decided not to pursue college? I did not understand the whole deal with the boxes in Klara’s vision. Was this supposed to be metaphorical? Other questions I wasn’t sure about, mostly ... How tall is Klara? Is she human size?

But overall the point of view from the machine/AF is quite solid. I really understood Klara and her understanding of her role in the world. In the ending, with the “slow fade”, as well - Mother decides for Klara, showing that as much as machines are taking human jobs, humans also at the same time decide a machine’s role or trajectory in life.

I noticed that not a single person speaks to Klara as if she is a real person, except for Manager and for Josie. Others barely acknowledge Klara unless prompted by Josie. However, I didn’t really like Josie much as a character, either. Klara is so devoted to Josie, but isn’t as equally a good friend back... She promises to be a best friend and yet is only a friend when convenient for her. Shows that most of the characters (except for Manager) don’t really view Klara as a conscious being with her own feelings and identity... She is more of an intelligence convenience.

I did not like how none of the characters seemed to have much growth. Josie didn’t learn anything (she stayed spoiled). Rick changed a bit but we didn’t got to see the details of how. Mother and Father faded away but I don’t think they changed much — they kept doing things the same way and seeing life in the same way. Klara maybe learns a bit about the world but her worldview did not change much — she still adores and venerates the Sun (despite a short stint in which she almost stops trusting the Sun as much).

I also did not like how traditional race and gender norms seem not to have changed much in this hypothetical future (which kind of disappointed me. So many science fiction books envision imaginative futures with respect to technology but not to societal roles!). For example, when Josie has her first interaction meeting, all of the children are brought to Josie’s house by their Mothers. Josie lives only with her Mother. In fact, for a while, there were no men in the book (only Rick). I thought there were no more men in this society and that only Mothers raised children and that Fathers didn’t exist and it was some sort of matriarchal women’s society, and I was kind of digging this kind of world. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as we find out later.