Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun


Interviewer: Empathy, is that a word you could ascribe to this machine?

Ishiguro: This is a very big question – I mean this was one of the fundamental questions that puzzled me all the way through. If I’m writing this character, Klara, do I write her like a, more or less like a human being who is empathetic? And this is one of the things I  wanted the reader to think about – does Klara actually have genuine emotions or has she just learnt human emotions and she’s just kind of figuring things out as humans would do…

 ABC Book Show interview March 1 2021

Klara, the voice and eyes of the book, is a robot, an Artificial Friend chosen by 14-year old Josie in a world where Artificial Friends are as common as vacuum cleaners.  Writing a book based round Artificial Intelligence runs a big risk of over-thinking, getting lost in the weeds of the argument about robots’ potential capacity and the ethical questions it poses. In his uniquely warm and elegant way Ishiguro takes us to the living heart of these questions. Do you believe in the human heart? one character asks…Something that makes each of us special and unique?

 Klara has been programmed to do one job – to make sure that the human being who chooses her as an Artificial Friend isn’t lonely. But when she gets out into the real world she’s confronted by new and more complicated demands.  Being an intelligent machine, she modifies her thoughts and her behaviour – figuring things out as humans would do.  Then we have to ask, how is that different from what we do? Klara the robot is like a child, a very touching child, puzzling about the world, trying to make sense of things because they seem to mean something to others.

Klara is like us too in her instinct that there’s some ruling power behind the world we see. For some people it’s God, for others it’s some other ethical or belief system; for Klara, who is solar-powered, it’s the Sun.

The Sun was pouring his nourishment onto the street and into the buildings, and when I looked over to the spot where Beggar Man and his dog had died, I saw they weren’t dead at all – that a special kind of nourishment from the Sun had saved them. Beggar Man wasn’t yet on his feet but he was smiling and sitting up, his back against the blank doorway, one leg stretched out, the other bent so he could rest his arm on its knee. And with his free hand he was fondling the neck of the dog, who had also come back to life and was looking from side to side at the people going by. They were both hungrily absorbing the Sun’s special nourishment and becoming stronger by the minute…

 It’s a hard-edged world, where gene-editing is routine for parents wanting to give their children an advantage, and where gene-edited people consider everyone else an underclass. But in spite of that, Klara’s voice, at once wise and childlike, and the task she sets herself when her child is in danger, give the book something of the magic of a children’s story. In that way it reminded me of The Buried Giant.  Klara speaks of her gratitude and respect as the Sun, tired and no longer intense was sinking into the ground.  This beautiful piece of work left me with that same feeling of gratitude and respect.


13 thoughts on “Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun

  1. Depsite having a copy of this, for some reason I’ve avoided reading it although I love Ishiguro’s work (and have read most of his novels). I think I’m afraid he’ll do a plot twist reminiscent of “Never Let Me Go” and poor Klara will come to a sad end! Anyway, I enjoyed the review, which reminded me that anything by Ishiguro should be high on my reading list!

      1. There’s some very interesting things going on now in sci-fi, as all these literary writers have taken to using it to explore some very philosophical questions (think of Atwood). Ishiguro in particular seems to be using it as a vehicle for probing what is it that makes us human (I think he did the same thing in Never Let Me Go). The genre has come a very long way since I read my dad’s old paperbacks, replete with ray guns and space babes! (which is not to say that I read that much of it these days, just that it seems to be creeping across genre lines)

        1. I’ve avoided those futuristic Atwoods, not sure why. I preferred her when she was just politically-incorrectly funny – which is also a way of considering what makes us human, I suppose.

          1. BTW I would have made a comment on your piece on The Last Of Her Kind, which we’ve also written about here, but it’s not clear to me how to do it on your site. Just under the Contact button?

            1. Oh, how exciting — fellow Nunez fans! (I’ve gotten the impression from several of the blogs that, at most, her name sounds “familiar” but many haven’t read her novels). I’ve just spent some enjoyable time reading your reviews. She really is marvelously talented, isn’t she?
              If you want to comment on my site (needless to say, I’d be very interested in your views), just go to the end of the comments and click on “reply.” I think that should do it. The contact button sends me an email; but of course you could do that if you’d rather.
              Like you, I held off on Atwood’s sci-fi, dystopia works for quite some time (I had a copy of Oryx and Crake for years before I read it), preferring her straight fiction. I must admit, however, that when I started I couldn’t stop. But then I was hooked on sci-fi as a child. All my dad’s paperbacks, you see!

  2. I enjoyed your piece on this – characteristically thoughtful and erudite, as ever. As a speaker, Ishiguro is fascinating to listen to. I’ve heard him being interviewed about this book on two or three different podcasts and he always brings something new and interesting to the discussion.

  3. I’m not sure I’d be tempted to read this, not being a fan of sci-fi. Although Atwood is Canadian I’m not partial to her work, especially the Hand Maid’s Tale.

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