Book Review: Klara and the Sun

cover image Klara and the Sun by Kazu Ishiguro

“The sun always has ways to reach us.”

It is difficult to write about ‘Klara and the Sun’ without giving too much away about the story. Basically, it is about Klara and her life. We get to know Klara in a robot store together with many artificial beings where she is available for sale.

Klara later becomes the artificial friend of Josie, a teenage girl. Josie lives together with her divorced mother in a fancy, modern house and Melania, their housekeeper. One day Klara is brought into Josie’s home and will stay there.

What is special about the story? It is told by Klara, an artificial human. Everything is told from her perspective in her own manner. Everything is new to Klara. How will she be integrated into human society? How is everyone treating Klara, and how is this affecting her thinking, feelings, and actions?

It is not clear if the story takes place today or in the near future. I do not know about the newest technology, and what today’s robots are capable of. It is not so relevant, because the story raises ethical questions. I think bottom line it is about ethics: How do we deal with one another personally as humans. How do we define life? Where does consciousness begin? How do we behave towards artificial intelligence?

Similar questions were raised in numerous sci-fi movies. I am a big fan of Star Trek Next Generation and was reminded of Data, the beloved android. I think also of the replicants in the Blade Runner-movies. Artificial life is also a topic in literature, from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ to ‘Machines like me’ by Ian McEwan.

I liked ‘Klara and the Sun’ very much. It took me a while to get used to the writing style, and to the way Klara sees everything. She finds her own expressions to describe the world. Sometimes it is funny, when she sees a ‘dog lead woman’, ‘headset walkers’ or ‘pedal cyclists’.The narrative shows a consistent narrative style from the perspective of Klara: her language and her way of observation.

The novel is interesting. There are almost no lengths in the narrative. The plot development is stringent and logical. The story of Klara is very touching and sad. ‘Klara and the Sun’ is no light novel. It reads lightly, but all in all it is a classical drama.

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote several books about many topics. I have read ‘When We Were Orphans’, which is one of my all-time favorite, and his novel about an ukiyo-e artist ‘Artist of the Floating World. Kazuo Ishiguro has proved his writing skills again with ‘Klara and the Sun’.

Reviewed Title

Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun. Knopf, 2021 (Cover).

Book Review: An Artist of the Floating World

cover image An Artist of the Floating WorldAlthough Kazuo Ishiguro is a Japanese author, his works are assigned to British literature. He was born in Nagasaki in 1954 but moved to England when he was six years old. He writes in English. Two of his well-known books so far deal with Japanese topics.

An Artist of the Floating World was published in 1986.

The Japanese artist Ono Masuji is now an old man. He looks back on his career as he had spent several years as a traditional ukiyo-e painter. Ukiyo 浮世 means floating world. It stands for the momentariness of enjoyment. The main motifs are geishas, actors, scenes of theater, brothels, sexual fantasies, amusement, and the like.

The timeline of the story spreads over from October 1948 to June 1950: the first years after Japan’s unconditional surrender after WWII under American occupation.

The personal story begins as Ono’s daughter seems to have no chance to marry an adequate husband. A first marriage deal has failed, and the second is difficult. It is likely because of Ono’s past. In the 1930s Ono had dedicated himself to the military regime and the ideology of Japan’s expansion policy. He became an influential artist with many followers.

At present Ono reflects his own guilt. He is regretting his behavior and apologizes for his role during the 30s and 40s. He talks to his relatives and speaks frankly about his faults. During a marriage arrangement meeting (miai) of his daughter he suddenly bursts out with his own life-story– in front of his and the fiancé’s family. Ono feels deeply remorse about his responsibility in the expansion politics of Japan and the overall destruction.

The Ono family lives in a Japanese town, which was destroyed. Ono has often been visiting a traditional Japanese bar in the former red-light district. The surrounding is a debris field. The last bar will soon give up, and then there will be nothing left of the traditional amusement district anymore.

Signs of changes are everywhere: the young Japanese are all eager businessmen. Ono thinks that economy growth turns to be the new religion.

His family of three generations is changing as well. His son-in-law belongs to the new generation who accuses the elder men of being responsible for the war.

In backflashes Ono’s memories of his youth and his painting career are detailed and colorfully described. The reader gets much insight of the ukiyo-e painting tradition.

Ono lived his life against great odds. Once struggling against his father, who had burned all his early paintings, against two of his former teachers and even against his colleagues or followers. The key scenes are emotional, it is a story of power and destruction.

An Artist of the Floating World is worth reading as a novel of changing Japanese tradition and coming to terms with the past.

800px-Kitagawa_Utamaro_Omigaya

(ukiyo-e by Kitagawa Utamaro)