Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
A modern master of fiction speculates on the character of artificial intelligence and the relationship between humans and their servant creations.
Ishiguro is among my very favorite authors. His facility, his fluency, his enchanting imagination is without peer. I often feel as if two readers were experiencing his prose, one charmed and happy, the other wary and apprehensive that something disturbing is just beyond the horizon. This dichotomous feeling is piquant and stimulating. It is, I find, seldom achieved except when presented with the skill this author exhibits.
Klara is an AF; that is, an artificial friend. She is an android programmed to offer emotional support and gentle guidance to troubled teens in a world that seems to have gone to excess where success and achievement in scholastics are measured strictly and personal interaction is limited. Face to face encounters are restricted to preplanned meetings that echo the kind of “play date” very young children enjoy. Klara is with her charge, Josie, at all times and her job is to see that the girl is kept occupied with positive activities and to be a shoulder upon which to cry. She happens to be very, very good at it.
As she becomes more and more a part of the family, often taken for granted and always in the background, her role is defined more precisely by degrees by the mother who fears the death of her chronically unwell daughter. All the while, Klara is seeking ways to heal Josie from the source of her power and strength, the sun. To her, the sun is the motivating entity for everything. Her entreaties are very like prayer and her relationship to him is deeply personal.
This book is an autobiography of a robot. That sounds cold, but there is great warmth, love, compassion and dedication in Klara’s journey with Josie from a sickly childhood into adolescence and adulthood. It is a story of care and concern. As a protagonist, Klara evokes sympathy from the first pages where she waits in the store where she is displayed for the perfect companion to whom she may pledge her existence. She is patient, intelligent, observant and empathetic. It is impossible not to like her.
There is darkness here, too. In much the same way as the author did in Never Let Me Go, it emerges only slowly and is realized with something of a shock, although the clues are there to see. The skill on display here is impressive, the more so since it is invisible. Magic, really. I can recommend it to anyone who loves fine writing, strong characters with whom the reader can identify, and lovers of classic storytelling.