With all the hype around AI these days, it’s no wonder that we see references to it
everywhere – in newspapers and magazines, but also in music, literature and art.
Kazuo Ishiguru’s novel, Klara and the Sun, published in 2021, is a case in point. The
multi-talented Ishiguru is a Japanese-born British author, screen writer and musician
best known for his novels The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. In addition to
being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017 for The Remains of the Day, he
has been nominated for the Booker Prize four times!
Klara and the Sun is a sweet, understated book told from the unique perspective of an
AF (Artificial Friend) who is purchased to assist a young tween named Josie in a
futuristic world where kids learn at home on "oblongs" instead of going to school. From the start, we are told that there is something about Klara which sets her apart from the other AFs. She is observant and sensitive, absorbing her human charge’s world so
completely that she understands Josie better than she does herself at times. (If you’re a
fan of Netflix, you’ll see superficial similarities between this book and M3GAN.)
However, not everything in this futuristic world is perfect. In order to truly “succeed”,
families can opt for their children to go through a process called “lifting” which is
supposed to enhance their intelligence and give them membership to an elite club. The
kids in this club socialize together, go to the same colleges, and end up in positions of
power when they are adults. The problem is that “lifting” comes with side effects,
including chronic illness and sometimes death. As time passes, Klara begins to suspect
that her presence in her adopted family’s household has more to do with the needs of
Josie’s mother than it does with the ailing Josie herself.
The book raises many questions, ethical and otherwise, but one in particular -- what
makes us special or unique? -- is at the forefront. This sentence struck such a chord
with me: "There was something very special, but it wasn't inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her"; Yes, humans are unique, but one of the things that makes us so
is the impact that we have on others.
I’d definitely recommend this book to any teen who is interested in AI. It’s fascinating to
see the world from Klara’s perspective. Despite being an Artificial Friend, some of her
observations and feelings are more “authentic” than the humans around her.