Review: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

What does it mean to love? That is the question at the heart of Klara and the Sun Kazuo Ishiguro's beautifully written and Booker Prize longlisted novel. Set in an unnamed era in the future the story opens with Klara, an Artificial Friend who has outstanding observational qualities. As she waits in the window of a shop to be chosen by a customer, we discover the extent of her sensitivity and unusual qualities--which include a worship of the sun, a fear of what she calls the Cootings machine (which is, presumably, some type of construction vehicle whose fumes block out the sun,) and the ability to observe the humans who pass the window in a way that the other AI cannot. Eventually, Klara is chosen by Josie, a lonely and sickly teenager, who is a victim of the era. In this era, teenagers undergo risky surgery to be 'upgraded.' The same surgery killed Josie's sister, and has left Josie ill. To not have the surgery however, would leave Josie ostracised by the outside world, much like the boy who lives next door. Meanwhile, Josie's mother, fearful of losing her younger daughter, encourages Klara to learn and take on as many of Josie's characteristics in the hope of becoming Josie, should something happen to her. Of course, this is something that Klara cannot do, no matter how hard she tries. She can mimic Josie but it is something else that makes Josie unique and special entirely to the people who love her.

This was a beautiful novel and one that, I felt fairly certain when I picked it up, would break my heart. I was not entirely wrong--the novel is sad, but in a good way. Klara remains an optimist and insightful right up until the end, in spite of the fact that things do not end well for her--after all, she is AI with a limited lifespan, and by the end of the novel Josie is in no need of a friend to help her grow up. Josie and her family are victims of circumstance and their reactions to things are very human. The author's writing is very well done, giving Klara a voice that is very innocent and optimistic. 

Klara and the Sun is an insightful and occasionally heartbreaking read that raises questions of what it means to be human and, ultimately, what it means to love.


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