Book Review: Robot is the most likeable character

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Photo: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro)
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Photo: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro)

AI is a concern for publishers and novelists too, yet in Klara and the Sun (released in paperback in 2022), Kazuo Ishiguro challenges readers to empathise with a robot in the form of a so-called Artificial Friend (AF), the sole narrator of the story.

We meet Klara in a store that sells AFs as companions for children, where she’s been repeatedly passed over in favour of more advanced models.

But Klara has an exceptional level of curiosity and imagination that gives her superior insight. It’s this capacity that draws the attention of Josie, a girl with a mysterious illness, who finally liberates Klara from the store.

Klara’s other major relationship (as the title implies) is with the Sun, which takes on a godlike persona for her because she has inferred that sunlight has power (indeed, she needs solar energy to operate, and her name means ‘brightness’).

Klara’s everyday mission is to serve Josie, but Klara’s life’s work becomes getting the Sun to restore Josie’s health, which has been compromised by genetic editing.

In Klara, we have a somewhat ethereal narrator, who is loyal, thoughtful, and (arguably) more likeable than any human in the story.

But because her perspective is limited, there are aspects of the world that readers, like Klara, do not fully comprehend.

Instead, Ishiguro trusts us to not only develop our own understanding but also consider the huge themes for ourselves, among which is the contradiction of our age: that some modern biotech advances (such as genetic engineering and cloning) challenge what it means to be human just as much as AI and robotics, yet as a species, we are mostly embracing the former while striking against the latter.