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Klara and the Sun: Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize Paperback – 2 March 2021
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From the bestselling and Booker Prize winning author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, a stunning new novel - his first since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature - that asks, what does it mean to love?
This is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.
A thrilling feat of world-building, a novel of exquisite tenderness and impeccable restraint, Klara and the Sun is a magnificent achievement, and an international literary event.
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'Ishiguro is a remarkable novelist.' - Neil Gaiman
About the Author
- Publisher : Faber Fiction; Export - Airside ed edition (2 March 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0571364888
- ISBN-13 : 978-0571364886
- Dimensions : 23.3 x 2.7 x 15.3 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 1,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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We begin the tale at the AF shop amongst other AF's on display to be sold. Klara and her fellow AF, Rosie, are standing side by side at the store's back. Occasionally the Manager moves Klara to the front window on a striped couch to gain a better opportunity to be seen and hopefully purchased. It is here we see the outside world through Klara's eyes. The crosswalk where many people cross the road, and the many taxis that fill her vision.
Klara has the innocence of a child though the intelligence or potential intelligence of an adult. What sets Klara apart from the other AF's is her keen observational abilities and her unrelenting curiosity about the behavior and motivations of the human's around her.
Finally one day while Klara and Rosie are positioned in the front window, Klara observes a woman and a little girl get out of a taxi. While the woman speaks to another human, the little girl approaches the window and asks Klara questions through the glass. All Klara can do is smile and nod her head, but a bond is created between them on their first meeting. From that day, Klara wants to be the AF to the little girl who we come to know as Josie. After a few mishaps and challenges, Josie and her mother buy Klara, and she is shipped to their home in the country. It's at this point we discover that the little girl is suffering from a serious illness.
What I found striking about Klara was her deep-seated sensitivity and overall kindness. This AF always thinks about other people's feelings, whether AI or human, above her own. One may argue this AF is programmed that way, but as mentioned, this AF is unique. Although it is her job to be the friend of her owner Josie, Klara takes this friendship to its limits to ensure a positive survival for the child and everyone around her.
As you would expect the Sun is a major character in this tale. Because the AF's are solar-powered, the sun is a source of life for them, and as Klara realizes, the sun is a source of life for all living things. This is a key theme throughout the novel.
The questions of what it means to be human have been explored in many novels in the past. For example, Phillip K. Dick's, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, can loosely fit into this category. But Ishiguro takes this notion a step further by illustrating that true love, sacrifice for another, and the layered depths of the human heart are the things that truly make us human.
Once turning the last page, I didn't know whether to be sad, hopeful or both, yet the images, thoughts, and feelings of the tale remained with me for many days afterward.
I thought the book was well written but the author chose to expand and heavily detail out pointless things. Then when something impact up came along, it just felt rushed. It made reading a little tedious. Luckily it wasn't an overly long book. Definitely not my normal read but a welcome change.
The novel holds true to the authors belief that he has secretly re-written the same story. In this idea, the novel is arguably most similar to his novel “Never let me go” that also mused upon what it is to be not quite human. However in this novel, genetic clones raised to harvest organs for medical treatments is replaced with artificial intelligence or what the book calls AFs.
Klara, our narrator, is an AF (Artificial Friend) designed to give company to lonely children in an isolated, polluted and angst ridden future. Through Klara’s keen perception the world in the novel gradually reveals itself. Children are “lifted” implying that they are genetically altered to improve their aptitude and chance of success in life. Classes are divided between the genetic haves and have not and even this lifting process is not without potentially fatal consequences.
Although the story is slow paced, the reveals are well worth while and Klara’s endearing and innocent observations of the world create a beautiful and poignant foil, juxtaposed against a grim and sinister reality that lurks just below the surface.
Like “Never let me go” this feels like a YA dystopian sci-fi novel but is so much more. Only a truly impressive author could pull this off.
A philosophical sequel in some ways to Never Let Me Go, but unique in it's own right. As always with Mr I, a work to make you think.
The pressure to deliver in his first major work since winning the Nobel Prize and getting knighted for his literary efforts must have been immense. The author rises to the challenge. While probably not his finest work, it’s not far away from it. Klara is one of his most endearing characters.
Top reviews from other countries
Plotwise, the narrator is Klara, an AF (Artificial Friend) to the teenage Josie, who lives an isolated life, aside from neighbour and potential boyfriend Rick, out in the country. She's is suffering from an illness whose cause is not really made specific. In fact in this dystopian future quite a number of things are not quite clear for much of the book. (What, for example, is the pollution spewing Cooting Machine?) Anyway, Klara's job is to observe and learn about Klara, and this she does, though her observations do become rather tiresome after a while. And I'm afraid the huge error she makes in regard to the Sun is simply, for me, not believable for one so otherwise intelligent. And the anti-climatic ending, while poignant, I found unsatisfying.
I kept going with this because it was Kazuo Ishiguru and does contain some fine passages, but it was a bit disappointing really.
If this doesn’t win awards and make it onto all of the best of the year lists I will be astonished.
Reading Klara and the Sun is a troubling experience. The emotional content is strong, while the world seems different from ours but disturbingly familiar. When I finished the book, I was left emotionally drained and it took me a few days to slowly arrange the book's ideas in my head. I really recommend this book.
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Klara and the Sun is set in the very near future, in a world that is clearly derived from ours. Technology is a bit more advanced, and inequality is even more pronounced. The novel is not conspicuously political, and the action of the novel is largely set in a distant out-of-town location where social reality barely intrudes. Yet there are half-hidden undertones of a disturbing political reality. Fascism is on the rise; big business continues to pollute the environment; society is divided between an elite class who can afford 'uplifting' for their children, though the process is risky, and an underclass who are effectively barred from higher education and decent jobs; most of society is 'post-employed'. It reminds me of how the social realities behind Jane Austen's novels -- slavery, the French Revolution, the oppression of women -- appear to be ignored in her vision of bucolic tranquillity but actually motivate her novels at a deeper level.
Klara herself is an AF, an 'artificial friend'. Klara has been designed to have a deep intuitive understanding of relationships and a real empathy for the humans she is supposed to befriend. However, Ishiguro goes to some lengths to show that these are really Klara's only skills. She has very little understanding of how the world works. Her mobility is limited and she has no senses of taste or smell. She can visually perceive simple scenes, but when there are too many people, or the setting is new to her, the scene breaks up into boxes that are barely connected. Sometimes she relates objects visually to views from her memory that are irrelevant: a line of coffee cups in the shop with a line of objects in the barn. Patterns of sunlight from a window which a human would ignore, have significance for Klara. Klara's world is different from and much simpler than ours.
Klara's simplicity, and her own dependence on solar power, leads her to a home-made religion of sun worship. Ishiguro's skill as an author makes it very believable that Klara's strong sense of empathy with human beings combined with her lack of knowledge of the real world leads her to the intuitive sense that the sun has human feelings and super-human capabilities.
Klara goes on to potentially sacrifice herself to persuade the sun to cure her human, Josie, from a disease that we eventually find is related to the process of 'uplift' that is to give her a chance of a career in this dystopian society. Klara believes that her sacrifice is what saved Josie. If true, it means that Klara has denied herself the role of 'continuing' Josie, by acting as her -- something that could have won Klara the love of 'the mother' and Ricky, 'the boyfriend'. It is very reminiscent of the butler in The Remains of the Day, who sacrificed his chance of love for a cause that proved to be pointless.
Klara ends up in a scrapyard, only able to move her head around so she can see the sky, and to slowly put her memories in order. It is a heart-breaking end to a story where she has given everything and received nothing in return, but where Klara has no bitterness at all because that ability was not programmed into her.
On one level, this is a story about artificial intelligence and an ethical side that has so far almost been ignored -- if we create beings that are capable of love and empathy, we should then be responsible for how we treat them. Mary Shelley understood this problem when she wrote Frankenstein, but most of the discussion of the ethics of AI today focusses only on the effect on humans.
On another level, this is a story about us now -- about how we use other people and are used by them. Klara and the Sun rings true emotionally because it is talking about exploitative relationships of a kind that we have seen, maybe experienced, ourselves. The political and social backdrop of the novel, so like present-day America where social inequality and individuality is taken to extremes, mirrors the way Klara is exploited. Klara's sacrifice and prayer to a non-existent sun-god likewise show humanity's response to that inequality and soullessness, in religion and sacrifice.
Klara's naivety and intuition lead her to a sacrifice that may be pointless, but show her to be the only real human in the book.