I want to preface this review with a little slice of my reality as I believe it impacted my reading of this wonderful novel.
My beloved Aunt Kitty is, at this very moment, in the last hours of her life as she dies very slowly from metastatic cervical cancer. This remarkable human being that I love like a mother was in my mind and heart as I meandered through the meticulously built world of Klara.
What would I do for the person I loved the most?
Klara is an AF, short for Artificial Friend. AF are common place in a future America where these companions spend time with the human children they are purchased for.
Klara is bright with exceptional powers of observation that enable her to learn and adapt in ways other AF do not. This trait makes Klara far more human than many of their counterparts. Klara is purchased for young Josie, a 13-ish year old girl who has a prominent limp and an un-named, degenerative medical condition.
Throughout a slowly building story there is a tension amidst the beautiful world that something terrible is lurking beneath the bucolic setting and warm breakfasts with Mother. I joined Klara and Mother in hoping for the soon to be made clear cure for what ails Josie. Only to learn that what plagues Josie is the consequence laid bare of a choice Mother made for the person she loves most in the world.
Would I do the same for my beloved Kitty to have a chance at a life beyond injury and illness?
Would I try to capture her consciousness to keep “her” here with me? Or would I spare no expense to try treatments on the slim hope that they would give her an extraordinary life? Would I simply try to take as many pictures as I could and soak up her everythingness while she was still here?
There is no right way to process love and loss. There is no wrong way to bargain with the universe, to try and to hope and to believe that your loved one is worth so much more than the hand they have been dealt. But perhaps a keen observational power of what a person truly needs, rather than what everyone who loves her wants for her, is the most potent gift that can be given.
I found myself crying quietly at various points of this book, my heart bare and raw, as I imagined a future where I had the technology to try and knock over every hurdle that was in the path of my Aunt remaining healthy and alive. The world I cried for mere days ago is becoming closer to reality as the MRNA that forms the basis of the Covid-19 vaccinations is being used to build specialty vaccines tailored to an individual’s tumor make up. Which means soon enough for others there will be a vaccine that can save beloved humans like Kitty.
While I desperately want to keep Kitty here with me, I am taking some measure of comfort from Klara. For she discovered that sometimes, all we need is the warmth of the sun.