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Klara and the Sun, by Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, explores how our perceptions influence what we believe to be reality. This deceptively simple story questions our notions of god, friendship, and social class. By recording the experiences of sophisticated artificial intelligence, Ishiguro makes the reader wonder about the legitimacy of their own version of reality.
The novel is set in the not too distant future. Klara, an Artificial Friend (AF), spends her days standing in various department store areas waiting to be purchased. The novel’s opening scenes follow Klara and other AFs as they experience “life” for the first time. The AF’s original programming only provides them with a rudimentary understanding of language and the society they are intended to serve.
Klara’s days are spent observing shoppers and passers-by, inferring meaning from her limited understanding. She is a keen observer. Her intuition about the things she sees from the store window is insightful. We see her assign deity status to the sun. It is, after all, the prime source of the energy she requires to function. And, when she observes the kind sun perform a miracle on the street, how could she not consider it the giver of life? The roadwork machinery that belches smoke and obscures the sun’s love must be evil. Like all of humanity, her observations instruct her perceptions of reality.
The day Josie enters the store, Klara knows she has found her friend. She believes Josie will come back for her, even though the store manager warns her that human children are not always reliable. Eventually, Josie and her mother do return for Klara. True to her programming, Klara is Josie’s best friend. There is nothing she will not do to make Josie happy.
We quickly learn that Josie has a potentially terminal illness. Klara begs the sun to help Josie. From observation, she knows where the sun goes at night. Klara has recently met Josie’s best friend, Rick. She enlists his help to take an adventure and petition her god directly on Josie’s behalf. As Josie continues to decline, Klara’s faith is tested. Josie’s illness and social standing stress her and Rick’s relationship. Klara maintains her optimism and supports both of her friends when they fail to support each other.
Josie’s mother has an ulterior motive for purchasing Klara. When Josie is too sick for a day trip, her mother takes Klara alone. The day is pleasant. Klara enjoys almost every moment. Even the less enjoyable moments are memorable. It is clear that Josie’s mother approves of Klara. She confides her secret plan to Klara. Klara questions the plan at first. When the mother ensures her that it will benefit Josie, Klara is all in.
Klara, the artificial friend, is the stabilizing element throughout the novel. The lives of the main characters all benefit from her existence. Humans are variable and subject to change. Klara’s whole purpose is to help. Those who maintain the faith and hold things together are often left behind by those who succeed. In the end, who is the better person? In Klara and the Sun, the answer to that question may disturb you.
Written by Sam