Klara and the Sun’ by Ishiguro Kazuo. TNS
Gulf Today Report
Klara, the narrator of the new novel by Nobel Prize for literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro, isn’t human, but understanding humans is her mission.
Klara is an AF, or Artificial Friend, a type of robot with a human appearance and a high degree of artificial intelligence, designed to serve as a companion to a child or teenager, says Tribune News Service in its review.
The book begins when she is “new,” living in a store that sells AFs on a busy city street and learning to make sense of her little piece of the world.
Some things are programmed into her AI. She can estimate at a glance a person’s age and whether his suit jacket reveals “high rank” social status.
In "Klara and the Sun," the reader follows her in that mission. It’s a dazzling and deeply moving journey.
Klara has a deep reverence for the sun, which she regards as a deity.
It might seem an odd belief to build into an android, but AFs are solar powered, so attention to the sun is a matter of survival for them.
When it comes to things not in her code, Klara is programmed to observe and learn.
When 14-year-old Josie and her mother come to the store, Klara notes the girl is pale and thin and walks with difficulty, but that she is also bright and adept at manipulating adults.
Josie is a quick study, too — she notices how Klara feels about the sun and promises her they can watch the sun set together at her house.
Before long, Klara is Josie’s AF, living in a comfortable house far outside the city with those sunset views.
Josie is delighted with her; it takes longer for Klara to figure out how to get along with the Mother, a tense woman who dashes off to work each morning, and gruff Melania Housekeeper.
But Klara is determined to find harmony, because at the core of her programming is the task of keeping Josie happy and safe.
Klara’s quiet life with Josie is upended by a trip to the city.
It has several purposes: Josie will see her father (her parents are divorced) and visit an artist who is creating a portrait of her.
The trip is a rush of revelations about all of those characters, one that Klara finds almost overwhelming.
Booker Prize winner Ishiguro always keeps us inside Klara’s head, mostly through his skilful use of her narrative voice, which is formal and almost childlike in its innocence.
What Klara finds out in the city about Josie and her family will lead to choices that might be difficult for a human.
The Father asks her, “Do you believe in the human heart? I don’t mean simply the organ, obviously. I’m speaking in the poetic sense. The human heart. Do you think there is such a thing? Something that makes each of us special and individual?”
To Klara, programmed for loyalty and self-sacrifice, the answer is clear. For some of the humans around her, it might be an open question.
The quietly stunning finale of Klara’s story makes one feel a little like one of the first famous AFs, the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz," when he said, “Now I know I have a heart, because it’s breaking.”
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