In Review: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese-born Englishman who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, reminds readers that humans and robots both fall under the definition of ‘being’. Klara and the Sun does not just include the loss of being when devoting everything to serving higher-ups, but explores spirituality and mortality, seeking God when God does not seek you back. 

Klara and the Sun details the life of Klara, an Artificial Friend (AF) whose emotional intelligence almost upends her classification as a robot when she is adopted to be a companion for Josie, a young girl who is very ill. Before getting taken in, Klara stands in a window, soaking up the sun, which she refers to as ‘He’—not just a battery source, but a person whom she contemplates. From the beginning, Ishiguro establishes the layers of Klara’s worship, and sets the groundwork for a quietly, cleverly executed novel. 

Throughout the story, Ishiguro solely asks the reader to find out how the system of his universe works, and how the characters are the backbone of said universe. That’s it. This lack of a central conflict makes the story as a whole feel aimless, yet never fails to compel through Klara’s infinitely gentle and simple inner dialogue: 

“I believe I have many feelings. The more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.”

As previously mentioned, Klara is adopted by a small family—a triumph she handles quietly and maturely, like a child trying to prove to a parent (in this case, her Manager) that she can succeed all by herself. But once she gets to their home, conflicts arise: her child loves her, then hates her, then barely speaks to her. The same wobbly relationship happens between Klara and Josie’s mother, which only seems typified when, defending herself and trying to calm bad situations, Klara refers to those around her in the third-person instead of second-person. She shifts from acting as a child opposite an adult to acting as a servant for a royal. Here, Ishiguro establishes her altered definition of ‘being’ and her duty to duty.

It’s also clear that, in this new age of technology, Ishiguro wants people to have full awareness of the moral dilemmas they will face, and the mixture of joy and horror that will accompany them. His diction is as warm and overt as the morning sun: 

“Perhaps they hadn’t met for a long time. A long, long time. Perhaps when they last held each other like that, they were still young.” 

The novel asks more questions than one can fathom. Why does Josie visit a photographer in the city? What is the cause of the tension between Josie’s parents? Why is Rick a social outcast? Why choose loneliness? Why hope? Can Klara understand any of this, or as a robot is she, by universal law, incapable of having a heart?

Klara’s two traits that shine the brightest are her observance and her obedience. Like any good AF, she supports Josie’s mother’s plans to keep Josie’s memory alive in case she does not survive her illness. She acts as a chaperone every time Josie’s neighbor Rick comes to visit her. In accordance with her hard-wired purity, Klara only breaks the rules when acting most humanly: by worshiping the sun.

Klara’s worship of the sun is a subtle and regular-seeming occurrence: her narration alone seems to be a final gift to her beloved sun. When things go wrong, Klara looks to Him for guidance, and even turns an abandoned barn near Josie’s house into a church where she can pray to Him. 

Klara and the Sun is not one of Ishiguro’s most famous works, but it is one of his most relevant to current times. As humans idealize the possibilities of present-day futurism, Ishiguro is the fineprint that does not tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. That’s what makes his novels so crucial—the gentle foreshadowing that he instills in readers until the final page. 

Ariana Duckett is a British-born writer and editor studying creative writing in Southern California. She has been published in Lunch Ticket, Fiction for Kids, and Manuscription Magazine, and was a poetry editor for Wingless Dreamer Publisher. She was shortlisted for the Inaugural Surging Tide Summer Contest and won third place in the Wildcat Literary Prizes. Her other interests include astronomy, listening to music, and ice skating.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.