Klara and the Sun
By Kazuo Ishiguro
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: N/A
Translation quality: N/A
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐
My recommendation: I did not love this book, but every respected professional reviewer did, so you decide…
This story takes place in a near-future dystopia, in which children’s intelligence must be genetically enhanced in order to succeed in society. It’s told from the point of view of Klara, an “Artificial Friend” android, who is bought to be a companion for a teenage girl who is combating a serious illness brought on by some aspect of the “lifting” technology.
This Nobel prizewinning author’s strength is his ability to evoke a setting and a mood, and he does that as beautifully as always, but I found the interactions between the characters in this book curiously stilted and wooden. Ishiguro is British and writes in English, but this book kind of feels like a Japanese work in translation. It’s almost as if Klara has infected everyone with an inability to interact naturally. I can’t honestly say that I developed as much as a smidgen of affection or sympathy for any of the characters.
I believe Ishiguro meant for the limits of Klara’s artificial intelligence to be enlightening about what it means to be human, by showing how complex human interactions actually are, how little we play by the rules that we ourselves set up and claim to follow.
The problem is, his version of “artificial intelligence” feels so retro and last-century, it just ends up being bad science fiction. Current fictional exploration of artificial intelligence—in books like “Ancillary Justice” and “Artificial Condition”—is far more nuanced and insightful than in “Klara and the Sun.” Working this far outside his usual bailiwick, Ishiguro might have benefitted from doing a little homework first.
However, as I mentioned above, he is a Nobel prizewinner, and the critics don’t share my meh, so if you’d like to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest, check the July-August Japanagram to see if you won a copy of KLARA AND THE SUN. All subscribers are automatically entered to win—if you’re not among them yet, click this button and sign up to enter.
How I pick the winners: On the last day of each month, I load all the email addresses of Japanagram subscribers into a random name picker on the Web and ask it to choose subscribers to match however many books I’m giving away that month. Then I publish the emails in the next day’s Japanagram (all emails obscured in a way so only the subscriber will be able to recognize it as their own, of course!)
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“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist