Kazuo Ishiguro’s futuristic novel Klara and the Sun may not be that far into the future; Ishiguro says his story is not so much futuristic as it is “a distorted view of our present.”
Klara is an AF, acronym for Artificial Friend, with the brains of Watson and the empathy of Oprah. Klara is not the latest model AF, but is unique with her amazing observational qualities, giving her the ability to connect with her new owner, Josie.
Ishiguro eerily includes details echoing modern day. Josie is a fourteen year old who uses an oblong – not too different from an iPad or Iphone – to log on to online lessons and connect with friends. Her health issues seem to have been caused by her mother’s desire to have her daughter “uplifted,” a possible gene altering operation to provide a more competitive brain (today some students dangerously use Adderall to uplift their brains before tests). The world has other predictive qualities: Artificial Intelligence robots taking over jobs, pollution spewing machines contaminating the air, and major divisions in the haves and have nots.
The winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, Ishiguro was born in Japan and educated in Britain. Fluent in both Japanese and English, Ishiguro’s language in this novel sometimes seems translated, adding flavor to characters in the novel, especially Klara, giving them a nonhuman quality. Nevertheless, Klara may be at heart more human than her handlers.
As the story evolves, characters change in their motivations, sometimes in nefarious ways. Josie’s mother has made a deal to clone her daughter in the event of her death, and the clone creator confirms he believes “Our generation … wants to keep believing there’s something unreachable inside each of us. Something that’s unique and won’t transfer. But there’s nothing like that, we know now.”
Klara, however, is sure there is more to being human than replication, no matter how ingenious, and she is determined to save, not replace Josie.
Klara’s cells are solar energized, so she already has a special relationship with the sun, but Ishiguro creates a magical and almost religious connection for Klara with the Sun. Have you ever made a deal with higher beings, promising something in exchange for a better outcome? I’ll stop smoking, if only you’ll let my dog live; I’ll change my diet, if only you’ll let my cholesterol fall back down… Klara makes a deal with the Sun, and is willing to sacrifice herself to make Josie better. If she can make the right offering to the sun, he might be able to heal Josie.
As Klara “fades away’ in the end, Ishiguru reframes the question of what makes a person who they are, and reminds the reader how magical it is to be alive and loved.