Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (“What does it mean to love another person?”)

GoodreadsWhat was on your mind when you wrote Klara and the Sun?

Kazuo Ishiguro: There is usually one big thing behind each of my books and then a constellation of other little things. At the center was this question: What does it mean to love another human being, particularly in an age when we’re questioning whether we can map out everything about a person through data and algorithms? It’s that old question: Is there a soul? Maybe there isn’t anything in there that’s unique that can’t be reproduced. Perhaps we are reducible to just data and algorithms. 

Many of my other books have been about things like that. But the age we’re in, and the age we seem to be hurtling toward, made me look at that same question in a slightly different way.

This is an excerpt from an interview with author Kazuo Ishiguro which was published on Goodreads. And while I appreciate that Ishiguro tried to address the issue of love in an age of “data and algorithms”, for me the book fell short of that. It felt more like he was mechanically ticking off all the boxes for our present day agenda: pollution, technology, women’s independence, and false gods.

Here is a brief summary of the novel: Josie is quite ill. We never know what her disease is, but we know that she becomes terribly weak and needs to rest; we know that her mother has lost one daughter already and is all the more concerned about losing Josie. When Josie sees Klara in the storefront window, she knows that is the one for her. Klara is the AF (Artificial Friend) that Josie wants. But, Josie’s mother wants Klara for something much more. She hopes that Klara will learn Josie well enough to become her daughter if Josie dies.

As if a robot can be a friend.

As if a robot can replace a daughter.

Because the Sun provides its “special nourishment” to Klara, she goes to Mr. McBain’s barn (where she can see it set) to ask the Sun to heal Josie. If the Sun can make Klara strong, she reasons, why can’t it restore Josie to full health? It was bizarre to me, though, to read about a robot essentially praying to the Sun, and then realizing that her prayer was at first unheard because she hadn’t done anything about the pollution caused by a huge machine outside the store where she stood in the window.

It was all very strange, and I could not wrap my mind around a robot taking on human characteristics to such a degree that it could replace humans. I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that humans think they can be God in what they can create. For me, Kazuo Ishiguro did not answer any questions about what it means to love at all.

17 thoughts on “Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (“What does it mean to love another person?”)”

  1. Well, ok. I don’t know that this author has ever answered that question. He dances around it, he makes us consider, but he does not provide answers. But I am planning to read the book, so I will report back on my blog eventually.

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    1. I think the problem with this book is precisely that Ishiguro did not even ATTEMPT to answer any of the questions. “Human heart” is referred to in two lines, questions of identity and morality vs progress can only be glimpsed from the position of Klara, but Ishiguro certainly did not even ATTEMTP to address them, let alone answer any questions. There are lots of hints and dialogues only.

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  2. Judy, you make an excellent point (as usual!). Kazuo Ishiguro, and most other current Japanese authors, rarely gives us a definitive point of view. I like how we are left to form our own conclusions. And yet, I was bored? Irritated? throughout much of the novel. Although, he hits on current hot spots to be sure. I look forward to your thoughts when you read it; may they be more favorable than mine.

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  3. I agree with your feelings and thoughts about this novel. I particularly liked what you said here: “felt more like he was mechanically ticking off all the boxes for our present day agenda: pollution, technology, women’s independence, and false gods.” This is so true. Ishiguro that follows trends to such an extent that he forgets his own true abilities and evocative prose. I frankly haven’t seen that either. None of the themes that are hinted at explored – neither identity, nor human heart, nor artificial intelligence vs morality (maybe a little only). Soul? That was in Never Let Me Go and surely not here. It is frankly shocking for me to read a novel from Ishiguro which is that superficial.

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    1. You were the first person, Diana, from whom I heard a disparaging perspective similar to mine. (That was encouraging to me as a reader! I don’t want to feel I’m the only one who receives a book in a certain way.) I love this line from your comment, which succinctly sums up my feelings as well: “Ishiguro that follows trends to such an extent that he forgets his own true abilities and evocative prose.” That was what I was looking for, and sorely missed.

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      1. Definitely. Ishiguro simply “dances around” certain ideas and themes in “Klara”, but ultimately leaves it to his readers to draw meanings, conclusions and philosophise…all the “hard work”, so to speak 🙂 I will definitely be reviewing “The Unconsoled” this year, and would love to discuss it with you, too! That is one incredible novel.

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        1. I haven’t read The Unconsoled in quite some time, but I will discuss it with you the best I can when you review it. I remember finding it quite powerful. LOVED your review on Klara!

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  4. **spoiler alert in comment**
    Like you, I was unmoved by this story, but I did find some trademark Ishiguro provocations to sink my teeth into. One of the quotes I highlighted was “There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her” which suggests to me that he is saying that there may or may not be a soul, but it is the connections and relationships we have that create the meaning in our lives. Certainly Klara’s ending was very sad, discarded on a junk heap and left to wind down, with nothing but her memories.
    https://bronasbooks.com/2021/03/02/klara-and-the-sun-kazuo-ishiguro/

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    1. I was so glad to see you leave that quote here, Brona, because that was the ONE quote which stood out to me as well. I guess that is the take away for me, that love is essentially something you give; even more than you can receive. It reminds me a bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s point in A Wrinkle in Time, where Meg is “fighting” It for Charles Wallace. Something like, “What was the one thing she had that It didn’t? Love. She loved Charles.” For me, L’Engle has always had a lot to say about love, and I was hoping Ishiguro would leave me something important, too. Alas, in this book, he didn’t.

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  5. Great review and critique! I was also disappointed by this book. It was thought-provoking, but I feel he tried to follow too many threads and dilemmas without going deep enough into any one of them. I would really have enjoyed it more if he took one of the plots (e.g. Josie’s AF replacement) and followed it through to some kind of ultimate conflict & resolution. I feel he did this well in A Pale View of Hills.

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    1. I’m glad that you found my review interesting, Marian, and I’m “relieved” to see that I’m not the only one who was disappointed. (I thought, “How dare I be let down by such a famous and beloved author?” even while I was reading.) I felt we got the most perspective from the robot, especially by the way it was narrated from a rather removed point of view. But, I, too, would have liked to see more development or resolution. For Josie just to leave, both her mother and Klara and even her friend, was so abrupt!

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    1. I’m surprised about how many disappointed readers there are when it comes to this one. Maybe we held our hopes too high for the beloved Ishiguro. Yet, I did not love The Buried Giant as much as his earlier works, either. I think as authors “grow”, they move from what we once loved to something entirely different. I know that happened to me with Margaret Atwood, too. I will be interested in your thoughts, Annabel.

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  6. The race for creating and controlling Artificial Intelligence is really raising all kinds of questions. We think we can create the perfect companions for human beings in this age of loneliness, but what if in the end, the AI ends up controlling us? They are not bound by human ethics of empathy and kindness, they are machines that behave how they are coded, but what if the code gets corrupted? Ack.

    Somehow, I’ve *accidentally* done a lot of AI reading / show watching — all focusing on whether AI is capable of human emotion, integrity and pursuit of its own identity. If you’re interested in following this topic, I’d recommend the works of sci-fi writers like Rachel Swirsky and Tannith Lee. There’s also this movie Ex Machina, a hair-raising thriller about the slippery slope of creating “Highly Intelligent” AI.

    I’m not convinced, but then perhaps my timeframe is very narrow — I’m looking at what’s possible in the immediate future, and not really thinking about +50 years from now. What if?? Not a very comfortable thought!

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  7. I agree with you that the book falls short. I was expecting a twist or turn as the story develops but to my disappointment there isn’t. Just posted my review on Ripple Effects.

    Bellezza, I’d enjoyed all my previous read-along with you, if you still remember, Anna Karenina for one plus a couple other titles. Would you be interested in reading together Dostoevsky’s The Brother Karamazov? I’m very flexible in terms of the time frame and in my usual pace: slow. Maybe throughout this Spring. If this fits you well then we can invite others to join in. Let me know what you think. 🙂

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