Top positive review
Clever and Unusual
Reviewed in Australia on 28 April 2021
The notion of Artificial Intelligence or the AF (artificial friend) is explored in Ishiguro's latest novel, Klara and the Sun. Through the eyes of Klara (AF), we see the world, her wishes, dreams, and developing relationships with her new owner, family, and friends. This is an unusual novel, in so far as it delves into the questions of what it means to be human and what it means to actually Love.
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.