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I first stumbled across the minimalist book cover of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Klara and the Sun” on the Spiegel bestseller list. I was immediately taken with the blurb. A novel from the point of view of an artificial intelligence that tries to understand us humans like a toddler by means of machine learning? Off to my virtual shopping cart! When “Klara and the Sun” appeared in more or less prominent book recommendations for the summer (including one by Barack Obama), I bought it straight away. And now it is also among my personal tips for friends, family – and you.
“Klara and the Sun”: Human drama and a taste of futuristic utopia and dystopia
I started “Klara and the Sun” during a train journey from Berlin to Munich and devoured it immediately. Klara is a razor-sharp observer who notices her surroundings with an almost childlike mind. In the process, she lets the reader share in her rational but sometimes – there’s no other way to put it – naïve conclusions.
What makes “Klara and the Sun” so worth reading, apart from the tender first-person narrator, is her environment, which she dissects so precisely. Constructed as an “artificial friend” for children, Klara meets Josie (or Josie meets Klara?). The robot becomes the girlfriend of a teenage girl. For various reasons, the teenager lives a very isolated life in a high-tech future. Josie has hardly any contact with her peers, while she grows up in a family environment full of human drama. Futuristic utopias and dystopias are only touched on in passing.
Tip: “Klara and the Sun is suitable” in English for people who are not native speakers. The language level is somewhere between: B2 (English Abitur) and “I like watching series and films in English when none of the main characters speak a Scottish or Irish dialect”.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, however, also earns criticism
After I finished the book, I read through a few reviews to get a general idea of the mood. In doing so, I should probably mention one point of criticism to set the right expectations. And I am doing this despite the fact that it didn’t bother me at all. The book review by Deutschlandfunk Kultur, among others, criticises the story for lacking “reflection on the philosophy of technology”. And it is true. “Klara and the Sun” initiates no deep philosophical discussion about AI vs. humans or the future of our society.
But aren’t there already enough books, discussion groups and experts who deal with the pros and cons? For me, that is precisely what makes “Klara and the Sun” so charming. The future is already present in it and is accepted as such.
Rather, it is about personal stories that an AI observes and experiences. A new perspective on human beings and the question: What is love actually and can the inevitable pain be grasped at all – even with the mental capacities of an AI?
Who is the author Kazuo Ishiguro?
Born in Japan in 1954, he emigrated to the UK with his parents at the age of 5 and lives there to this day. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. His novels are world-famous and some of them have been made into films with a star-studded cast. The best-known film adaptations include “All We Had to Give” (2010) with Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield and “What Remained of the Day” (1993) with Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro was originally published by Faber & Faber Limited in 2021. Hardback edition around 20 pounds via faber.co.uk.