From the moment we meet Klara, the title character in Kazuo Ishiguro’s futuristic novel ‘Klara and the Sun,’ our expectations on life are upended. Set in a future abounding with hints of dystopia, Klara is a solar-powered outsider. An older model ‘AF,’ she’s intended as an artificial friend for pre-teens. When a family purchases Klara, her destiny is fulfilled, but her life is just beginning.
With no motives other than to be a friend and companion, Klara is soon caught in a mysterious triangle between Josie, the pre-teen she’s meant to befriend, and Josie’s mother, who only wants the best for her daughter, even as what constitutes ‘best’ continues to shift the boundaries of parenthood.
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In this perhaps not-too-distant time, children struggle with face-to-face, personal interactions. Their closest relationships are limited to their ‘oblongs,’ a new-fangled description of the very recognizable iPhones, and high-tech friends like Klara. The slightly distorted language in the novel serves to highlight the growing connections between our current lives and this future, where AF’s are caring companions, even as they still occasionally struggle with the complexities of human relationships.
Told entirely from Klara’s limited perspective, the novel forces us to view things through her fragmented field of vision and put the pieces together, much like Klara herself must do. As she grapples with what it means to be human and live alongside all our complicated emotions, Josie and her family come to terms with what it means to love.
Ishiguro’s deceptively simple novel forces reckonings with all sorts of ethical questions – as technology gains strength, how do we serve what is meant to serve us? What are the limits of life as we understand it? Who decides? As we shift into life within the Metaverse, the newest iteration of a Facebook that has shaken global political foundations, these questions are timely and important.
‘Klara and the Sun’ appeared on former President Barack Obama’s reading list after its debut, was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize, and selected as a “New York Times” Notable Book of the Year. The novel continues a long line of accolades for Ishiguro. Born in Japan and raised in Britain, the venerable author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, a knighthood in 2018 for Services to Literature, and his earlier work “The Remains of the Day,” was adapted into a 1993 film nominated for eight Academy Awards.
‘Klara and the Sun’ is available now.