Klara and the Sun

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Klara and the Sun Summary

Klara and the Sun is a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro told from the perspective of Klara, an artificially intelligent robot who serves as a companion to Josie, a young girl suffering from an illness.

  • Klara, a solar-powered “Artificial Friend,” is purchased to act as a companion to the ailing Josie.
  • Josie’s illness worsens, and Klara vows she will destroy the polluting “Cootings Machine” in exchange for the Sun’s assistance.
  •  Klara sacrifices a piece of herself to destroy the machine, yet it is soon replaced.
  • Klara pleads with the Sun once more to heal Josie, who makes a full recovery.

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Klara and the Sun takes place in a near-future society where technology has advanced significantly. In this society, where social and safety constraints often engender loneliness among school-age children, it's common for families to hire an "AF," which stands for "Artificial Friend"—an artificially intelligent solar-powered being calibrated to provide exemplary companionship. The story is narrated from the first-person perspective of Klara, an extremely perceptive AF.

Klara is friendly and well-liked, and enjoys a special relationship with the Sun, whom she views as a sentient being generously sharing nourishment to keep AFs alive. When she sees a man revived in the sun across the street from the window of the store where she lives, she comes to believe the Sun can bestow this healing nourishment on humans at will, too. After the sun's rays are blocked out for several days by pollution from an industrial machine, Klara begins to view the machine—“the Cootings Machine," named for the "Cootings" logo on its side—as a sinister emblem of darkness, in the Sun's direct opposition.

After a long, patient wait at her department store, Klara is finally chosen. She's purchased by a teenage girl named Josie Arthur and her mother, whom Klara refers to as simply "the Mother." Josie is vivacious and smart, but she's also suffering from a mysterious ailment that occasionally renders her bedridden.

As she acclimates herself to living at home with the family, Klara begins to develop a more nuanced view of the relationships between human beings. For the first time, she learns about the complicated relationships between people who love each other and the fragile tension that can exist between mothers and daughters. Soon, she learns that Josie and Rick, the boy next door, are romantically involved, and is able to observe this different kind of love, too.

After witnessing Josie and Rick around their peers, however, Klara realizes that some human behavior may be more complicated. Josie, like most teenagers, has been "lifted," while Rick has not. This means that Josie has been given advantages that make her more likely to excel, but the lifting process also comes with risks. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that complications from the lifting process have caused Josie's sickness. Eventually, Klara learns that Josie once had a sister, Sal, who died under the same conditions.

Josie's health begins to waver, and Klara soon becomes certain that the only way to cure her is to beg assistance from the Sun. He's previously shown himself capable of curing human illness by reviving the beggar outside the department store, she reasons. Remembering that he appeared to set upon a barn she can see from Josie's window, Klara asks Rick to help her find the barn. On arrival, she proposes a bargain: she'll disable the Cootings Machine so it can no longer spew darkness and pollution if the Sun will help Josie.

Klara is invited along to an appointment in the city, where the Mother is having a mysterious portrait of Josie done. Josie's father, a former engineer whom Klara calls "the Father," joins them in the city. At the portrait appointment, it's clear that something is amiss—Josie thinks she's having a painting done, but Mr. Capaldi, the "artist," is actually building an AF replica. Klara, he's hoping, will be able to take over as a replacement for Josie if Josie should succumb to her illness. Artificial intelligence has advanced far enough that it should no longer matter, he argues—there's nothing inside a human that an AF can't authentically replicate.

An argument ensues, and the family leaves to calm down. Klara, having spotted the...

(This entire section contains 1013 words.)

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Cootings Machine, enlists the Father's help to sabotage it. It can be done, he tells her, but it will require a sacrifice: a small bit of a chemical used in AFs will disable the engine, but extracting it from Klara's reserves may diminish her abilities.

After the two sabotage the machine, Klara is confident she's done the right thing, even as she feels her observational skills start to weaken. On the way out of town, however, she's dismayed to see something she hadn't anticipated: a second Cootings Machine, spewing out just as much pollution as the first.

Returning to the barn a second time as Josie's health continues to diminish, Klara begs for the Sun's intervention, pleading with him to recognize her sacrifice even if she failed to end pollution by foolishly thinking there was only one Cootings Machine. This time, as the Sun's rays begin to wane, a stack of windowpanes catch their bright reflection right near where Klara is standing. She speaks directly to the sunbeams, beseeching them to recognize the power and potential of Josie and Rick's young love and what they might have if Josie would only live to adulthood.

Back at the house, Josie’s condition is deteriorating. Klara becomes increasingly despondent that the Sun might not ever bestow his special nourishment on Josie, and when the sky falls dark one morning, the mood in the house is especially grim. Rick and the Mother have a tense interaction about lifting but are interrupted by Klara, who has just noticed the Sun peeking through the clouds and demands everyone go upstairs.

Klara throws the blinds open, and the Sun's rays shine down on Josie's bed. Josie stirs, finally sitting up, and goes on to make a miraculous recovery.

Soon, Josie's life is overtaken by preparations for college and she and Rick begin to drift toward two separate futures. Klara asks Rick if this means their love wasn't real, and Rick assures her that it doesn't work that way—their love was real as can be at the time, which means some of it will always exist between the two of them.

When Josie leaves for college, she and Klara say goodbye for the last time, and Klara thanks Josie for choosing her. Klara is moved to "the Yard," a resting place for decommissioned machines, and the narrative closes as she contentedly sifts through her memories, feeling grateful and lucky for such a good life.


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