Kazuo Ishiguro shares the significance behind his latest book “Klara and the Sun”

Ishiguro dazzles his international readership with a special book launch

The award-winning author captivated a virtual audience. Photos courtesy of Knopf and Matt Karr

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, Peak Associate

Imagine attending an event where the backdrop is a Nobel Laureate’s living room. That’s where I found myself on March 15, 2021, when Penguin Random House hosted a virtual event to celebrate the release of Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro’s highly anticipated new book. The event included Ishiguro, as well as Canadian poet Souvankham Thammavongsa, and I was surprised to find it more accessible and intimate than a typical in-person book launch. It felt like I was having a casual weekday wine night . . . with two award-winning literary giants who are making history. The event was a glimpse not only into Ishiguro’s book, but Ishiguro as a person — something you don’t get with an overcrowded in-person book signing.

Thammavongsa has published five poetry books and her book of short stories How to Pronounce Knife was the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner. In other words, she is a big name in Canadian literature. It felt really special to have her there in conversation with Ishiguro. 

Ishiguro showed great interest in their conversation and in Thammavongsa as a writer, frequently turning questions back to her and her own works. Ishiguro explained that Klara and the Sun originally started as an idea for a children’s story, but his daughter said it was too dark to be a children’s book. In the end, this original idea for Klara and the Sun was shaped into a deeply moving, dystopian sci-fi novel for adults. The plot follows Artificial Friend, Klara, through her life’s journey, starting from the shop window where she’s waiting to be chosen and taken home; waiting for purpose and meaning. The book poses existential questions we are all familiar with: What does it mean to love? To be human? And how do we find the meaning of living behind it all?

“Do you think as adults, we still need these stories to explain the world to us? Do we still need that gentleness, that kind of protection?” Thammavongsa asked Ishiguro. 

“I think we do,” Ishiguro responded.  “Although Klara and the Sun does present quite a dark world in many ways, I wanted the main character to retain that kind of childlike hope and faith in something powerful and good that’s watching over her and watching over everybody. I wanted her to never lose that all the way through.”

Ishiguro shared that when writing, making something that people won’t forget is one of the most important things for him. He asks himself questions like “how long will it linger afterwards?” and “how do you stay in the mind of the reader?” It was comforting to hear that even a Nobel Laureate has writer worries such as this. The event as a whole was a truly wonderful experience, and it was nice to see a big-name event hosted entirely by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

This event was part of a series that Penguin Random House is hosting in collaboration with independent bookstores across Canada. In support of these beloved local booksellers, the tickets to these events are obtained through the purchase of the related book from any of the affiliated stores. The local bookstore nearest to me was Massy Books — we stan Massy Books. For the Ishiguro event, the first 10 pre-orders got a signed first edition of the book, and I was so excited to be one of those recipients. In case you were wondering if Ishiguro’s signature is as sharp as his prose, it is — it’s perfect.