Friday, October 8, 2021
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Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro
Penguin Random House, $28.00

In many of Ishiguro’s novels, his protagonists are not quite telling us the truth, or are perhaps, telling us only their perspective on what occurs around them.

In An Artist of the Floating World, Ono struggles with guilt and cultural change in the aftermath of the Japanese defeat in World War II; In Never Let Me Go, Kathy slowly accepts her purpose, and in The Remains of the Day, Stevens comes to terms with the way in which he has spent most of his adult life. Klara and the Sun similarly considers the role of the naive protagonist who offers the reader an insight into the way in which we live today, particularly in regard to genetic manipulation, the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and the capacity to love.

Klara, the narrator of this story, has an intense capacity for observation but, without contextual cues, little capacity to truly understand and process what is happening around her. Klara is a robot, created as an “artificial friend” (AF) for children who are “lifted”, that is, genetically manipulated to achieve greatness. However, this process involves risk to the health of the child and Josie, who chooses Klara as her AF early in the novel, is suffering the possibly terminal consequences of this enhancement, having already lost a sister to the same procedure.

There are clear references to foreseeable problems in our world – Josie’s estranged father, for example, has lost his middle-class job and joined a heavily armed commune with other white people – but the key feature of this text is the love between Klara and Josie. Josie is isolated from other humans, including her traumatised mother, who accepts her death as inevitable, whereas Klara is determined to save her, even if that involves sacrificing herself. Klara, who is solar powered, is also prepared to tackle the ubiquitous pollution through sabotage, which the human characters regard as being an inevitable part of life.

Klara and the Sun is a truly inventive novel about the way in which human frailties can be addressed by the transformative power of AI, particularly when the demands placed on human children go beyond what they can naturally achieve.

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books@ssh.com.au

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