Klara and the Sun: Humanity seen through the eyes of a robot
Klara and the Sun, written by Kazuo Ishiguro, narrates the relationship between a personal care robot and a teenager.
I discovered Klara and the Sun, a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, on Instagram. The algorithm identified I spent my time looking at illustrations and stationery product images. In its attempt to personalize the content to keep me engaged in the platform, it sent me a reading that could keep catch me: The story of a Klara, a robot.
I find it curious to have discovered Klara and the Sun like this. Part of nowadays discussion of technological advances focuses on the role of how algorithms influence the way we perceive reality; for instance, by personalizing what we consume online. In this novel, we see how a robot learns about human attitudes and actions. But going deeper: What is Klara and the Sun about?
Who is Klara?
Klara is a personal care android designed to look after teenagers. She is also the narrator of this story. Introduced in the book as an artificial friend – better known as AF – she spends her early days recognizing the world from the window store where she is displayed. Klara has extraordinary observation capabilities that distinguish her from her AF peers. Little by little, she learns about humans and the interaction between themselves until she meets Josie and her mother, her new owners.
As Klara gets used to her new home, we are introduced to other characters such as Melania, the housekeeper, and Rick, Josie’s best friend. They all represent an enigma for our protagonist because in her interest to see and learn as much as she can about the human world, she wonders why people act the way they do.
The themes in Klara and the Sun
Klara and the Sun is a book that talks about different forms of showing love. For example, the one a mother feels for her daughter and how she wants to ensure her happiness, to that first genuine youth love.
Simultaneously, the novel explores the limits of technology and artificial intelligence. This happens not only on the infrastructure level but also from an ethical perspective. The latter makes the book even more interesting because scientific advances and technological development are getting faster every day. 100 years ago, we adopted the word robot in our vocabulary, and during recent months we discussed the dilemmas of work automation or gene editing, even in humans. There are nods from the author to these topics.
A story after a Nobel
I was encouraged to read Klara and the Sun because the novel received good reviews. Yet, a deep analysis was missing. Once I got my copy, I discovered that the author won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. Klara and the Sun is the first novel Kazuo Ishiguro published after receiving the award. Ignoring this fact was good. I started to read the book without expectations, other than entertaining myself during the lockdown. The reading result was satisfying. Regardless of the story, one of the things I enjoyed most is that it is a wonderfully well-written novel. I highly recommend reading it in its original language, English. It is a book that anyone can read quickly and still enjoy it. If the reader needs to stop for a few days, picking up the thread of the story again will be very clear. I do not know more about the work of this British-Japanese writer, but if the rest of his novels are told like this, I will not hesitate to dig deeper into his work. So, which of his published work would you recommend?
Book: Klara and the Sun
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber & Faber Limited
*Text originally published in my personal blog Bitácora de Reportera
** A version of this text in Spanish can be found here: Klara y el Sol: los seres humanos vistos desde los ojos de un robot