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Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Narrated by Sura Siu

Unabridged — 10 hours, 16 minutes

Kazuo Ishiguro

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER ¿ Once in a great while, a book comes along that changes our view of the world. This magnificent novel from the Nobel laureate and author of Never Let Me Go is “an intriguing take on how artificial intelligence might play a role in our futures ... a poignant meditation on love and loneliness” (The Associated Press). ¿ A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick!

“What stays with you in `Klara and the Sun' is the haunting narrative voice-a genuinely innocent, egoless perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.” -Booker Prize committee

Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 11/30/2020

Nobel laureate Ishiguro takes readers to a vaguely futuristic, technologically advanced setting reminiscent of his Never Let Me Go for a surprising parable about love, humanity, and science. Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF), a humanlike robot designed to be a child’s companion. She spends her days watching humans from her perch in the AF store, fascinated by their emotions and hungry to learn enough to help her future owner. Klara, who is solar-powered, reveres the sun for the “nourishment” and upholds “him” as a godlike figure. Klara is eventually bought by teenager Josie and continues to learn about humans through her interactions with Josie’s family and childhood friend. When Josie becomes seriously ill, Klara pleads with the sun to make her well again and confronts the boundary between service and sacrifice. While the climax lends a touch of fantasy, Klara’s relationship with the sun, which is hidden at times by smog, touches on the consequences of environmental destruction. As with Ishiguro’s other works, the rich inner reflections of his protagonists offer big takeaways, and Klara’s quiet but astute observations of human nature land with profound gravity (“There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her,” Klara says). This dazzling genre-bending work is a delight. (Mar.)

From the Publisher

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK A BOOKER PRIZE NOMINEE GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick ONE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR ONE OF BILL GATES'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, Time, NPR, Washington Post, Vogue, USA Today, Town & Country, The Guardian, Vulture, and more

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.”
Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“A delicate, haunting story, steeped in sorrow and hope.”
Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“What stays with you in ‘Klara and the Sun’ is the haunting narrative voice—a genuinely innocent, egoless perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.” —Booker Prize committee

“It aspires to enchantment, or to put it another way, reenchantment, the restoration of magic to a disenchanted world. Ishiguro drapes realism like a thin cloth over a primordial cosmos. Every so often, the cloth slips, revealing the old gods, the terrible beasts, the warring forces of light and darkness.”
Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic

“Ishiguro’s prose is soft and quiet. It feels like the perfect book to curl up with on a Sunday afternoon. He allows the story to unfold slowly and organically, revealing enough on every page to continue piquing the reader’s curiosity. The novel is an intriguing take on how artificial intelligence might play a role in our futures...a poignant meditation on love and loneliness”
Maggie Sprayregen, The Associated Press

“For four decades now, Ishiguro has written eloquently about the balancing act of remembering without succumbing irrevocably to the past. Memory and the accounting of memory, its burdens and its reconciliation, have been his subjects… Klara and the Sun complements [Ishiguro’s] brilliant vision…There’s no narrative instinct more essential, or more human.”
The New York Times Book Review

 “A prayer is a postcard asking for a favor, sent upward. Whether our postcards are read by anyone has become the searching doubt of Ishiguro’s recent novels, in which this master, so utterly unlike his peers, goes about creating his ordinary, strange, godless allegories.”
James Wood, The New Yorker

“One of the joys of Ishiguro's novels is the way they recall and reframe each other, almost like the same stories told in different formats...Again and again, Ishiguro asks: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have a self? And how much of that self can and should we give to others?”
NPR


“Moving and beautiful… an unequivocal return to form, a meditation in the subtlest shades on the subject of whether our species will be able to live with everything it has created… [A] feverish read, [a] one-sitter…  Few writers who’ve ever lived have been able to create moods of transience, loss and existential self-doubt as Ishiguro has — not art about the feelings, but the feelings themselves.”
The Los Angeles Times

“As with Ishiguro’s other works, the rich inner reflections of his protagonists offer big takeaways, and Klara’s quiet but astute observations of human nature land with profound gravity . . . This dazzling genre-bending work is a delight.”
Publishers Weekly [starred review]

“A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.”
Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

Praise from the UK:

“There is something so steady and beautiful about the way Klara is always approaching connection, like a Zeno’s arrow of the heart. People will absolutely love this book, in part because it enacts the way we learn how to love. Klara and the Sun is wise like a child who decides, just for a little while, to love their doll. “What can children know about genuine love?” Klara asks. The answer, of course, is everything.”
—Anne Enright, The Guardian

“Flawless . . . This is a novel for fans of Never Let Me Go, with which it shares a DNA of emotional openness, the quality of letting us see ourselves from the outside, and a vision of humanity which — while not exactly optimistic — is tender, touching and true.”
—John Self, The Times

“With its hushed intensity of emotion, this fable about robot love and loneliness confirms Ishiguro as a master prose stylist.”
—Ian Thomson, The Evening Standard

“It is innocence that forms Ishiguro’s major subject, explored in novels at once familiar and strange, which only gradually display their true and devastating significance.”
—Jon Day, The Financial Times

“The novel is a masterpiece of great beauty, meticulous control and, as ever, clear, simple prose.”
—Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times

“A deft dystopian fable about the innocence of a robot that asks big questions about existence”
The Financial Times

Library Journal

★ 02/01/2021

When Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day; Never Let Me Go) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, a member of the Academy noted, "He is not out to redeem the past, he is exploring what you have to forget in order to survive in the first place as an individual or as a society." Here, in his first novel since winning that esteemed award, Ishiguro imagines a world in which artificial intelligence has advanced into a form of companionship and a potential mode of immortality. The book's protagonist is Klara, an Artificial Friend with advanced observational capabilities. On sale in a shop, she is ultimately chosen by a family with a sick child, Josie. As Klara spends more time with the family, she comes to understand their collective hopes, dreams, and fears. Her objective processing of emotion slowly evolves into an understanding of the human condition. With restrained prose and vivid language, Ishiguro replaces the tired trope of whether computers can think with a complex meditation on whether computational processing can approximate emotion. VERDICT Ishiguro's latest novel is without resolution but will leave the reader with wonder.—Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-11-27
Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940177710167
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/12/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half of the window. So we were able to watch the outside – the office workers hurrying by, the taxis, the runners, the tourists, Beggar Man and his dog, the lower part of the RPO Building. Once we were more settled, Manager allowed us to walk up to the front until we were right behind the window display, and then we could see how tall the RPO Building was. And if we were there at just the right time, we would see the Sun on his journey, crossing between the building tops from our side over to the RPO Building side.
 
When I was lucky enough to see him like that, I’d lean my face forward to take in as much of his nourishment as I could, and if Rosa was with me, I’d tell her to do the same. After a minute or two, we’d have to return to our positions, and when we were new, we used to worry that because we often couldn’t see the Sun from mid-store, we’d grow weaker and weaker. Boy AF Rex, who was alongside us then, told us there was nothing to worry about, that the Sun had ways of reaching us wherever we were. He pointed to the floorboards and said, ‘That’s the Sun’s pattern right there. If you’re worried, you can just touch it and get strong again.’
 
There were no customers when he said this, and Manager was busy arranging something up on the Red Shelves, and I didn’t want to disturb her by asking permission. So I gave Rosa a glance, and when she looked back blankly, I took two steps forward, crouched down and reached out both hands to the Sun’s pattern on the floor. But as soon as my fingers touched it, the pattern faded, and though I tried all I could – I patted the spot where it had been, and when that didn’t work, rubbed my hands over the floorboards – it wouldn’t come back. When I stood up again Boy AF Rex said:
 
‘Klara, that was greedy. You girl AFs are always so greedy.’
 
Even though I was new then, it occurred to me straight away it might not have been my fault; that the Sun had withdrawn his pattern by chance just when I’d been touching it. But Boy AF Rex’s face remained serious.
 
‘You took all the nourishment for yourself, Klara. Look, it’s gone almost dark.’
 
Sure enough the light inside the store had become very gloomy. Even outside on the sidewalk, the Tow-Away Zone sign on the lamp post looked gray and faint.
 
‘I’m sorry,’ I said to Rex, then turning to Rosa: ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take it all myself.’
 
‘Because of you,’ Boy AF Rex said, ‘I’m going to become weak by evening.’
 
‘You’re making a joke,’ I said to him. ‘I know you are.’
 
‘I’m not making a joke. I could get sick right now. And what about those AFs rear-store? There’s already something not right with them. They’re bound to get worse now. You were greedy, Klara.’
 
‘I don’t believe you,’ I said, but I was no longer so sure. I looked at Rosa, but her expression was still blank.
 
‘I’m feeling sick already,’ Boy AF Rex said. And he sagged forward.
 
‘But you just said yourself. The Sun always has ways to reach us. You’re making a joke, I know you are.’
 
I managed in the end to convince myself Boy AF Rex was teas­ing me. But what I sensed that day was that I had, without mean­ing to, made Rex bring up something uncomfortable, something most AFs in the store preferred not to talk about. Then not long afterwards that thing happened to Boy AF Rex, which made me think that even if he had been joking that day, a part of him had been serious too.
 
It was a bright morning, and Rex was no longer beside us because Manager had moved him to the front alcove. Manager always said that every position was carefully conceived, and that we were as likely to be chosen when standing at one as at another. Even so, we all knew the gaze of a customer entering the store would fall first on the front alcove, and Rex was naturally pleased to get his turn there. We watched him from mid-store, stand­ing with his chin raised, the Sun’s pattern all over him, and Rosa leaned over to me once to say, ‘Oh, he does look wonderful! He’s bound to find a home soon!’
 
On Rex’s third day in the front alcove, a girl came in with her mother. I wasn’t so good then at telling ages, but I remember esti­mating thirteen and a half for the girl, and I think now that was correct. The mother was an office worker, and from her shoes and suit we could tell she was high-ranking. The girl went straight to Rex and stood in front of him, while the mother came wandering our way, glanced at us, then went on towards the rear, where two AFs were sitting on the Glass Table, swinging their legs freely as Manager had told them to do. At one point the mother called, but the girl ignored her and went on staring up at Rex’s face. Then the child reached out and ran a hand down Rex’s arm. Rex said noth­ing, of course, just smiled down at her and remained still, exactly as we’d been told to do when a customer showed special interest.
 
‘Look!’ Rosa whispered. ‘She’s going to choose him! She loves him. He’s so lucky!’ I nudged Rosa sharply to silence her, because we could easily be heard.
 
Now it was the girl who called to the mother, and then soon they were both standing in front of Boy AF Rex, looking him up and down, the girl sometimes reaching forward and touching him. The two conferred in soft voices, and I heard the girl say at one point, ‘But he’s perfect, Mom. He’s beautiful.’ Then a moment later, the child said, ‘Oh, but Mom, come on.’
 
Manager by this time had brought herself quietly behind them. Eventually the mother turned to Manager and asked:
 
‘Which model is this one?’
 
‘He’s a B2,’ Manager said. ‘Third series. For the right child, Rex will make a perfect companion. In particular, I feel he’ll encourage a conscientious and studious attitude in a young person.’
 
‘Well this young lady here could certainly do with that.’
 
‘Oh, Mother, he’s perfect.’
 
Then the mother said: ‘B2, third series. The ones with the solar absorption problems, right?’
 
She said it just like that, in front of Rex, her smile still on her face. Rex kept smiling too, but the child looked baffled and glanced from Rex to her mother.
 
‘It’s true,’ Manager said, ‘that the third series had a few minor issues at the start. But those reports were greatly exaggerated. In environments with normal levels of light, there’s no problem whatsoever.’
 
‘I’ve heard solar malabsorption can lead to further problems,’ the mother said. ‘Even behavioral ones.’
 
‘With respect, ma’am, series three models have brought immense happiness to many children. Unless you live in Alaska or down a mineshaft, you don’t need to worry.’
 
The mother went on looking at Rex. Then finally she shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, Caroline. I can see why you like him. But he’s not for us. We’ll find one for you that’s perfect.’
 
Rex went on smiling until after the customers had left, and even after that, showed no sign of being sad. But that’s when I remem­bered about him making that joke, and I was sure then that those questions about the Sun, about how much of his nourishment we could have, had been in Rex’s mind for some time.
 
Today, of course, I realize Rex wouldn’t have been the only one. But officially, it wasn’t an issue at all – every one of us had specifi­cations that guaranteed we couldn’t be affected by factors such as our positioning within a room. Even so, an AF would feel himself growing lethargic after a few hours away from the Sun, and start to worry there was something wrong with him – that he had some fault unique to him and that if it became known, he’d never find a home.
 
That was one reason why we always thought so much about being in the window. Each of us had been promised our turn, and each of us longed for it to come. That was partly to do with what Manager called the ‘special honor’ of representing the store to the outside. Also, of course, whatever Manager said, we all knew we were more likely to be chosen while in the window. But the big thing, silently understood by us all, was the Sun and his nourish­ment. Rosa did once bring it up with me, in a whisper, a little while before our turn came around.
 
‘Klara, do you think once we’re in the window, we’ll receive so much goodness we’ll never get short again?’
 
I was still quite new then, so didn’t know how to answer, even though the same question had been in my mind.
 
Then our turn finally came, and Rosa and I stepped into the window one morning, making sure not to knock over any of the display the way the pair before us had done the previous week. The store, of course, had yet to open, and I thought the grid would be fully down. But once we’d seated ourselves on the Striped Sofa, I saw there was a narrow gap running along the bottom of the grid – Manager must have raised it a little when checking every­thing was ready for us – and the Sun’s light was making a bright rectangle that came up onto the platform and finished in a straight line just in front of us. We only needed to stretch our feet a little to place them within its warmth. I knew then that whatever the answer to Rosa’s question, we were about to get all the nourish­ment we would need for some time to come. And once Manager touched the switch and the grid climbed up all the way, we became covered in dazzling light.
 
I should confess here that for me, there’d always been another reason for wanting to be in the window which had nothing to do with the Sun’s nourishment or being chosen. Unlike most AFs, unlike Rosa, I’d always longed to see more of the outside – and to see it in all its detail. So once the grid went up, the realization that there was now only the glass between me and the sidewalk, that I was free to see, close up and whole, so many things I’d seen before only as corners and edges, made me so excited that for a moment I nearly forgot about the Sun and his kindness to us.

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