Klara is a robot with sophisticated artificial intelligence.
The sun is the sun: beautiful, replenishing, worthy of worship.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a master storyteller most famous for his brilliant novel The Remains of the Day (1989), which has many similarities to Klara and the Sun (2021). In both novels, written an astonishing 32 years apart, the protagonist is wholeheartedly dedicated to their profession of helping someone else, even to the point of making shocking personal sacrifices for the sake of the profession and the person being served.
The difference—and it’s a big one—is that the protagonist of The Remains of the Day is human, while Klara is a robot. Klara and the Sun takes place some indeterminate years into the future, by which time many futuristic transformations have happened in society, including increased xenophobia and the increased use of technology to enhance humans and their lives—each of which comes with its own shocking side effects and consequences.
Klara and the Sun is a brilliant novel, the type of novel that can be read over and over, each time with more insight revealed. Ishiguro raises profound questions about the ethics of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements, the nature of growing up, the meaning of spirituality, and, yes, the question of when a job crosses the line to becoming a form of slavery.
One thing I especially admire about Klara and the Sun is Ishiguro’s mastery in knowing how much to tell and how much to conceal in writing his story. For example, he seldom writes anything about what Klara looks like; he lets the reader intuit things based on the novel’s ongoing action. For example, instead of stating blandly that Klara has feet (as opposed to, say, wheels), Ishiguro writes:
“We walked onto the loose stones area, which I supposed had been kept deliberately rough for the car. . . . But I soon had to concentrate on my feet, because the loose stones area contained many dips, perhaps created by the car’s wheels.”
So much about Klara can be gleaned from this short passage. She has feet, yes, but also she feels unstable on her feet when walking on gravel (unlike when walking indoors). It’s interesting also to watch her artificial mind working. She has never seen gravel or ruts before, but she correctly intuits their purpose and cause.
She is smart and capable, but none of this comes without work.
Just as in a human. She’s just quicker in her learning than a human is, if you measure it starting from birth—or being switched on.
To sum up: Klara and the Sun is a page turner that kept me guessing throughout its many plot twists.
Something else: the only independent bookstore in Rockville is the TINIEST bookstore ever, tucked into the front of a health food store in the Town Square. This bookstore has several bookshelves of children’s books, and one TEENY-TINY sliver of space for adult books. When I was there last, there were literally only 20 or so adult books in the store. Klara and the Sun was one of them. If this bookstore can be seen as a microcosm of the world, Klara and the Sun is one of the top 20 best adult reads right now. I don’t doubt it.
What would you sacrifice for your employer?