Klara And The Sun is Nobel-prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book. And what an unusual book it is! The story is set in the future - but not so far out that it is hard to empathize with. It is also mildly dystopian and it is this mildness that seems to be what’s unsettling about the book.
The story is told in the voice of Klara. Our narrator is a young girl but not an actual human being. She is an AF - or Artificial Friend - a concept that isn’t fully explained but we quickly gather that she is a humanoid robot. Klara is also distinguished from other AFs in that she is particularly skilled at noticing the smallest details about people - and their emotions. The importance of this skill and her empathy play an important part in the story.
Klara is bought by Josie’s mother to be her AF. Josie is a young teenager who lives with her mother and an Eastern European housekeeper called, interestingly enough, Melania. For much of the book, there are no references to her father, another angle that only gets revealed over time. Josie’s mother brings Klara home to be Josie’s companion - to provide her not just company but also to help take care of her because Josie is sick with a mystery illness that will almost certainly take her life.
Klara, like all AFs, is solar-powered, and that’s the reference to ‘The Sun’ which provides Klara both power and nourishment. The Sun also serves as a near god-like influence on Klara. God is otherwise absent in this tale that deals with the compelling unfairness of a young child who might be dying.
Josie is in love with the neighbor boy, Rick and they make plans to be together their whole lives. The most important difference between this boy Rick and the other kids like Josie is that Rick is ‘regular’ while Josie and her friends are ‘lifted’. Ishiguro doesn’t get into many details about what ‘lifted’ means but we surmise that in this future, parents - at least the rich ones - have the option to have their children be genetically enhanced (along the lines of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus) so that they operate at a higher level than regular humans. Rick is poor and possibly therefore unlifted. This fact leads to him being an object of some fascination among the other kids.
Without giving away the plot too much, what happens is that the story moves along as Klara thinks she has a way to save Josie from her impending death and makes plans accordingly. Meanwhile, her mother is making completely different plans for how to deal with what might happen in the near future when Josie most likely dies. Josie’s father makes an appearance late in the book as someone who in the past has rejected this artificially intelligent future society and currently lives in what sounds, depending on one’s perspective, like either a rebel commune or a fascist cult. He plays a key part in a very interesting denouement to the story.
For at least the first half of the book, the story seemed so art-sy that I wondered about giving up. This interesting premise in a dystopian future is restrained but still succeeds in being quite a disturbing take on a time and society we could be headed towards. None of this future is unbelievably over-the-top and so it all seems uncomfortably within the realm of the possible in the next several decades.
So do I recommend this book? I felt like this book was smarter than I was and I am tempted to go back and read this book after some time has passed in the hope that on a second reading it will seem more familiar and more easy to appreciate. I suppose that means, yes, I do recommend it!