Book Review, Dystopia, Science-Fiction

Klara and the Sun

If you want a captivating sci-fi, beautifully written from a robot’s point of view, abundant with ideas and exploring faith and friendship, this novel is for you.

Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF). Her story starts in a store where she is waiting to be bought. From the beginning, I loved entering her mind, as she is uniquely insightful and observant of the human behavior and of the other robots’ behavior.

When Josie, a sick little girl, enters the store, Klara bonds with her and that, against any rational judgement, makes her wait until the girl’s mother is able to purchase her. This is the first time we understand Klara’s capacity for self consciousness and real connection with another person.

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Klara and the Sun – Themes

The story explores so many difficult themes, extremely relevant in today’s world, which, in reality is not so distant from the future Kazuo Ishiguro proposes. The questions and situations in this book should be discussed and acknowledged as issues before AI is mass produced. That is why, I think, this novel is so important: it explores human insecurity in face of technological development, mortality, obsolescence, loneliness and genetic enhancements.

However, the main theme in this novel is Faith. Klara worships the Sun, as it powers her batteries. This is one of the most natural things and I loved the way her faith is explored. Basically, I see her as one of the earliest humans, who, based on direct observation, extrapolate, speculate and worship natural elements. Mythology is full of gods embodying the Sun, the Moon, Earth, Water and anything else out of human control. In a way, I completely understood her in this regard, but, on the other hand, I would have expected her to react differently – more intelligently, given she has access to a world of information. It was unexpected. She even gets to argue, plead and negotiate with her god, the Sun, just like humans currently do. And, for me, that made her endearing and relatable.

Klara and the Sun – Thoughts

Through Klara’s eyes, we also see Josie, her adoptive human, whom she considers a friend. Their journey together starts at the store. Klara is built to be the perfect companion and strongly bonds with Josie. She, on the other hand, is aware Klara is an artificial friend. She values her human friends more, even though she is always quite attentive to Klara’s needs. And this part made me extremely emotional. We see everything through Klara’s eyes, so we understand when she becomes aware Josie doesn’t value her in the same way or when Josie forgets all about her as soon as she doesn’t need her. It is all the more sad when we see how Klara views the process, though it pains her, as normal, as a part of Josie growing up.

The fact that she acknowledges Josie’s behavior, the fact that it hurts her and, in spite of that, she continues to remain loyal to Josie and prays for her to her god, the Sun, all these things make me believe she actually feels love. And, of course, this is another essential question concerning AIs – Do they feel? Can they be hurt? Are they really sentient?

All the while, society is changed. And we see people divided in “lifted” and “unlifted”, the ladder having a great fewer chances of ever going to college or doing anything worthwhile. Some have passed into “post-employment” and feel nobody has use for them anymore. Some blame robots for everything and organize protests often to voice their problems. The impact of technology is obvious, the good and the bad, and I loved how themes like genetic editing get explored as something unavoidable, in the end, however much risk they carry.

Klara and the Sun – Philosophical Aspects

But more than the practical aspect of the technology impact, the author makes us face philosophical questions like “what is the essence of a person?”, “what can you transfer from a person, if anything?”, “what is a person exactly?”(is it her mind, her behavior, her looks?). Klara herself seems to reach a conclusion about it!

Another element that impacted me was how old age is viewed. In their final hours, old AFs remain alone, filling their days with just contemplating the Sun. They are useless for society, alone in the face of death, living from their memories, a reality not far of how old people are viewed today, tragically.

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The vision of the future from this novel isn’t very bright. That is surprising to me, as I don’t see a technological future that sad. But the potential problems the book exposes do exist and we’ll probably face a lot of them during our lifetime.

✨✨✨You can find the book on Goodreads here:✨✨✨

Thank you for reading this far!

I’ll now answer some more specific questions about the novel, commonly asked by readers. This part is not spoiler free, so, if you haven’t read the book, you should stop now and go read it!

What is the point of “Klara and the Sun”?

Klara and the Sun explores the limits of technology. Klara is a robot who has faith, consciousness and seems to feel love, friendship and loyalty. She has her own personality, memories, opinions and ideas. The novel pushes us to give an answer as to where is the limit of a person and what can or cannot be transferred to a machine.

What is wrong with Josie in “Klara and the Sun”?

Josie is ill and, for a while, it seems even her life is in danger. The sickness is never named, but it is directly related to the fact the she benefited from being “lifted”, meaning she was genetically altered to boost intelligence and academic performance. Being “lifted”, though it carries its risks, is normal for children in the future this novel sets up.

What does the ending of “Klara and the Sun” mean?

Once Josie is old enough, Klara is no longer useful in the household. She is sent to a Yard, a place where old machines stay until their end. Every day there she contemplates the Sun and revisits all her old memories. This ending is telling of how humans perceive and always will perceive machines, no matter how advanced or sentient machines get. It seems Klara will die of old age, with a failing memory, an ending not so different from that of ordinary humans, with the exception that she will not spend her final days along side the people she cared and prayed for. She will, however, spend her last days enjoying the Sun, her god, which she continues to worship and be grateful for until the end. The meaning may be that we all face our mortality alone.

Is “Klara and the Sun” sad?

Yes. However, the writing is beautiful and the themes it proposes are extremely profound.

Did Klara become Josie?

No. In the end, Josie survives her illness and it is no longer necessary for Klara to take her place. However, Klara’s conclusion is that even if that weren’t the case, she could have never truly become Josie. Not because she was not capable of copying Josie completely, but because there is something external to Josie, something that other people see in her that she cannot reproduce.

How did Josie recover in “Klara and the Sun”?

When Josie becomes very, very sick, Klara prays for her to her god, the Sun. She asks for her life because Josie and Rick are in love. Josie feels better almost instantly. Afterwards, she recovers her health completely. Why and how she recovers is an answer readers can only give to themselves.

Is “Klara and the Sun” dystopian?

Yes. Dystopias explore dangerous effects of social decisions. In “Klara and the Sun” there is a clear exploration of issues with strong social impact like technological advancement to the point of obsolescence of human work or transfer of consciousness from human to machine.

Is “Klara and the Sun” a love story?

No. Though the love theme is explored, the main focus of “Klara and the Sun” is faith and human versus machine consciousness.

Is “Klara and the Sun” religious?

No. Though it explores faith and themes such as faith versus rationality, it is not actually religious. Klara is a robot, an “Artificial Friend” whose batteries are powered by the Sun. That makes her believe the Sun is her god, so her behavior towards the Sun is the typical behavior of a religious person towards her divinity.

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