Monday, August 2, 2021

Klara and the Sun: a very short review

I must first admit that I had not heard of Kazuo Ishiguro before I happened to pick up Klara and the Sun; clearly I've been missing out on the work of one of the great writers of our time.

I loved this book.

I read it very fast, as it is both extremely compelling yet also quite approachable. And, as I read it, I kept having different reactions.

At first I thought: "oh, this is clever! What an interesting idea!" About a quarter of the way through the book, I thought: "I think this would have made a fine short story, but I think he's exhausted everything he came here to say."

But as I continued reading, I found that on the contrary, he had much more to say.

Klara and the Sun is, I believe, deliberately intended to be both thought-provoking and disturbing.

It is also rather topical, which makes me wonder a bit how well it will age: will it still be relevant 75 years from now? Ishiguro takes on topics such as: the ethics of artificial intelligence; the ethics of genetic editing; equity of access to health care; equity of access to education; the increasing isolation and remoteness brought upon us by technology; job displacement by technology; and much more.

It's also quite clearly drawn from the last 18 months of global shelter-in-place, as one of the main characters is a young child, confined to her home, without playmates, being educated by remote professors over video hookups, sufficiently withdrawn that her family takes her to "interaction parties" where she can (with adult supervision) learn how to interact with other home-sheltered peers.

Other aspects of the book are more universal and timeless, such as the sub-plots involving the invocation of prayer and the search for a greater power in the presence of hopelessness and pain, and the observations about human relationships and how they change as we age.

I think that many different people will find many different things to say about Klara and the Sun. For me, I think I will stop with these two observations:

  1. All along, even while I was thinking to myself that this book, so easy to read and be fascinated by, was shallow and superficial, I kept abruptly realizing, time and again, how much deeper and richer it was than I had given it credit for ("Beach reading" this is not).
  2. Disturbing though the book is, literally from start to finish, I can't help but feel that Ishiguro, overall, means the book to be hopeful. I think he wants us to realize that we can in fact influence how it turns out; we don't just need to let the future happen to us without thinking about it.

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