in Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro has produced yet another novel that is equal part peculiar and affecting, in this case the story of an advanced AI in humanoid form, created to be an “Artificial Friend” and sort of mechanical nanny for children. In other words, an android. Klara, the entity in question, is the first-person narrator, tellling in the best way she can the story of her developing yet necessarily incomplete emotions, which move steadily towards a greater compassion with human beings, despite an unquestioning acceptance of her subservient role in society.
Indeed, Klara repeatedly expresses the hope (anticipation?) that if she observes people carefully enough she will be able to make herself more acceptable to them. Might this not reflect Ishiguro’s own experience as a young immigrant? Also, social problems, especially referring to job losses blamed on robots, are woven into the dialogues but do not dominate the story. Replace “robots” with “immigrants,” though, and you again are tempted to see the story as a parable of modern-day Western economic worries. But it is far more than a parable; it is a poetic exploration of the nature of love and being.
There are some technical inconsistencies and imperfections: much AI tech that is current in our world is ignored, and, though the story seems to be set in the United States, British grammatical conventions slip into the human characters’ speech now and then–though not, oddly enough, into the dialogues of the two characters described as British immigrants! The Father’s character exhibits some flaws in continuity as well. But none of this holds back the story: it is quietly powerful and deeply affecting, with a beautiful if remote wistfulness pervading it throughout and ultimately enhancing its effect.
As in The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, the narrator lives within a constrained emotional range and is openly regarded as a second-class member of society. In the case of Klara, “she” is literally for sale at the opening of the tale, and is frequently referred to with scorn by some of the people she encounters. (In fact, almost none of the human characters is an actually attractive personality, and some are outright shits.)
In this telling, Ishiguro seems to use Klara to recapitulate the development of social and religious feelings in human cultures, and to explore the meaning of love both among humans and within this slowly awakening mechanical consciousness.
I won’t give away the plot, which has several interesting and unexpected twists, but I will say that Ishiguro generates a rare beauty from this unlikely tale, and, while it is not the masterpiece that The Remains of the Day is, it is a profoundly rewarding story. Bravos to Ishiguro. Read it; you might actually cry.