Alfred A. Knopf ($28)
by Kris Novak
In today’s world, is there a firm line between “human” and “artificial”? In his latest novel, Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro discusses subjects such as the dangers of technological advancement, the future of our world, and the meaning of being human that he also broached in his earlier books.
Taking place in the near future of the United States, the story unfolds through the view of Klara, the “Artificial Friend” of Josie, a success-driven teenage girl who suffers from a weird illness caused by “lifting,” an intelligence heightening procedure. Helping her with whatever she needs, Klara meets people in Josie’s circle like her boyfriend Rick, who shares their future plans with her. Klara’s only dream is to make her owner safe and sound. However, the girl grows weaker day after day, and Klara decides to immolate the Cootings Machine, believing this will cure Josie.
Klara’s extraordinary skills evoke feelings of excitement about progress, but the novel conveys an idea of its danger as well. Everyone depicted in this work is “self-programmed”; Josie, for instance, is fixated on creating the social mask she needs to fit in with her peers. All the characters show a lack of empathy and none of them see the world for its diversity—i.e. that everyone, “lifted” or not, has a role to play.
It quickly becomes evident that Klara’s character is more human than the others. While human characters’ language is stilted and robot-like, the narratives developed in Klara’s mind are complex and filled with imagery and details. Even her drawbacks—her tendency to rationalize an insatiable curiosity, say, or vision that becomes pixelated at moments of intense emotion—are recognizably human. Nevertheless, despite her extraordinary memory and intellectual capacity, she has difficulty synthesizing mixed emotions.
While Klara—more of a Lancelot than a Frankenstein’s creature—carries out her plan even though it may appear foolish, it is hard to say whether Josie’s recovery is a result of the immolation or not. Still, it is clear that Klara has made everyone around her stronger and confident enough in their thoughts and feelings to come up with the right decisions, including her best friend.
The theme of faith and its value in the modern world is hidden behind a fairy tale façade in Ishiguro’s story. Klara’s character demonstrates not only self-sacrifice, she fully accepts her destiny, pursues her goals energetically, and ignores all opinions except Josie’s in ways that could remind readers of Protestant doctrine. Further, almost every character expresses thoughts related to the doctrine of predestination at some point. Is it time for us to ask these questions too? The answer is hidden between the lines of this haunting novel.