Sunday, July 11, 2021

Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun Is Another Stellar Achievement

Ernest Hemingway once made a dismissive remark about Nobel Prize winners in which he declared that once people win the prize they don't produce anything good or important again. (This is my paraphrase.) Kazuo Ishiguro's remarkable Klara and the Sun proves that such pronouncements are absurd. 

Ishiguro demonstrates once again why he is considered one of the great writers of our time. The English language has a shortage of superlatives to describe the power of his prose, so I shan't even attempt it. 

When I was asked yesterday what genre he writes in, it seemed impossible to explain. Magical Realism? Literary Exceptionalism? Maybe "serious literary fiction" says it best. 

Good Morning America Book Club, NYTimes Bestseller, and Best Book selection by numerous others.... 

Ishiguro's stories are always original, the characters vividly drawn. Klara and the Sun is no exception. A writer's first task is to draw you in, and from the opening paragraphs you are hooked, willing to go wherever he plans to take you. For any reader seeking more than superficial escapism, Ishiguro's books always deliver a payoff. (I have to qualify this remark. In reading the Amazon reviews afterward, I see that a number of people disliked this story. I will give my reasons for liking it and recommending it.)

The novel is told in first person from the point of view of Klara, an AF, which is short for Artificial Friend. In other words, she is an intelligent robot that families can buy from a store downtown. The AFs are designed to befriend children and to be kind.

Part One
The story begins with 45 pages about life in the retail store for AFs. Klara is paired with Rosa, which gives the author a chance to show how Klara is extremely perceptive to such a degree that is unique for an AF. The AFs are solar powered, which explains Klara's unusual relationship to the sun. Eventually Josie comes into her life.

Part Two
The next 60 pages detail life with her new family. It is a three story house in the country. The Mother is a professional woman, Josie somewhere in her teens and Melania Housekeeper is the third member of the household. We learn that Josie had a sister who died, and that Josie herself is sickly so that everyone worries about her surviving. There is also a house next door and we soon get to know a boy named Rick. As the story progresses there are things we don't know but, as in a mystery novel, we feel their weight in the way Klara tells the story. 

Part Three 
The relationship between Josie and Rick is explored and challenged as they're expectations for the future seem to collide with present realities. We learn more about Rick's family after Klara visits their house, and we see how much Josie's illness impacts nearly everyone around her.

Part Four
In this section we meet the scientist/artist Mr. Capaldi and Josie's father. There is a clash between each of the characters that turns pretty ugly. Issues regarding motivations, fears and a sense of impending doom color the atmosphere, yet Klara throughout has maintained a sense of irrational hope. 

Parts Five and Six
The last two sections of the book tie together a number of clues that have been sown throughout and answer the questions that may have been raised in the reader's mind. 

One of the themes in this and other Ishiguro stories has to do with what it means to be human. Loneliness is another recurring theme. The challenges presented by relationships are part of his stories as well -- misunderstandings, fear of being hurt, et.

* * * 

Kazuo Ishiguro. Creative commons.
Not all the reviewers at fell in love with this book, so I can't promise this is for you. For me, however, I not only read as a reader but as a writer as well. I get mesmerized by the manner in which a great writer weaves a spell on the reader. I am especially impressed when a writer creates a unique narrator and is consistent throughout for 250 pages and more. An example of this might be Graham Greene's The End of the Affair in which the narrator tells a story, but the reader understands that the narrator is not reading things correctly.

In Klara, anxiety sets the tone from near the beginning. When she sees Josie in the store, will Josie come back? Will Josie recover from her illness? Will Rick and Josie live happily ever after in a world as broken as this? Will Klara fulfill her mission? As in real life, we never really know how things will turn out, so we have to keep following our path.

Maureen Corrigan of NPR described this as “one of the most affecting and profound novels Ishiguro has written….I'll go for broke and call Klara and the Sun a masterpiece that will make you think about life, mortality, the saving grace of love: in short, the all of it.”

Followers of this blog will know that I am a fairly big fan of Kazuo Ishiguro. People ask if he is a Japanese writer. The answer is that he was born in Nagasaki but grew up in England since age five. He's won numerous awards including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017.

Here are some of the posts I've written about his other books, as well as an interview about Dylan that appeared in a 2008 Paris Review. 

Ishiguro Again Shows His Mastery in Never Let Me Go

In Awe of Ishiguro's The Buried Giant

A 3-Day Ride with Ryder: Ishiguro's The Unconsoled

Kazuo Ishiguro On Dylan


Ed Newman said...

EdNote: After reading a few dozen reviews of this book I realize that not everyone will share my enthusiasm for the worlds Ishiguro creates. I found the manner in which the story was told to be quite thought provoking. We'll see what the aftereffects are for me, since I only finished reading it thus morning. I'm still returning to The Unconsoled in my mind and never seem to tire of Remains of the Day, or Never Let Me Go when I reflect and re-examine them.
It's kind of funny that the CAPTCHA he asks me to say "I am Not a Robot."
Wat is VERY weird is that the Instagram AI says I AM a robot.

LEWagner said...

I'm sure there have been various types of absurd general pronouncements on the Nobel Prize. I fully agree that what you paraphrase Hemingway as having said is an over-general and absurd pronouncement. Faulkner wrote some of his best works during the 1950's and early '60's.

My specific pronouncement ("observation" would be a better word) on the Nobel Prize was that no one who publicly contradicts or exposes lies behind "official stories" to tell the forbidden truth is going to get one.

Some novelists (Faulkner for example) have addressed sensitive issues such as race relations in the South. But there are issues that Faulkner was careful NOT to address in his fiction, except in a roundabout way. People who directly addressed those issues would not only have no chance of winning a prize, and would be vilified and attacked, as well, by the mainstream media. I won't name the issues, for fear of being censored myself.

There are indeed a few brave Nobel Prize-winners who have publicly contradicted and exposed lies AFTER having received the prize.

Kary Mullis is an example. He decried the way his PCR test was being misused for falsely implying a direct, consistent and necessary progression between a detection of HIV in a PCR test, to full-blown AIDS and death ... and then Big Pharma's using people's fear of AIDS to sell a regimen of experimental medications that actually caused the people who took them to get progressively worse, instead of better. Mullis pointed out that many -- even most -- of those who didn't take the drugs never did get AIDS.

Mullis described the way the PCR test was being misused, by running it to a ridiculous number of cycles: "Anybody can test positive for practically anything with a PCR test, if you run it long enough." "It doesn't tell you that you're sick."

And he took his licks, by being smeared by Wikipedia and other powers-that-be as having become an unreliable "eccentric".

There are even conspiracy theorists who speculate that Mullis' death in November 2019 was "very convenient", because the official narrative on the present pandemic has been that all deaths after positive PCR tests run to however many cycles (up to 45 cycles in Minnesota) are from one cause, and one cause only.

As Mullis had the integrity to contradict the official narrative on AIDS, it seems entirely possible that he may also have contradicted the official narrative on the present pandemic. Which of course is forbidden.

Perhaps some other Nobel Prize winners WILL also step up to the plate to publicly point out the anomalies and absurdities in the official narrative regarding the present crisis. I've been eagerly waiting and hoping.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the insights. Not the first issue I have seen Wikipedia squelch when a point of you went against a prevailing narrative.

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