Sunday, 1 August 2021

Book Review: Klara and the Sun

 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021)
(The author was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017)

(I listened to this book as audio book in Swedish, in July.)

This book is a bit odd - but I think not easily forgotten, and deserves a proper review. 

The story is set in a utopian future, where many children get assistance by an Artificial Friend (AF), a kind of robot (but made to look human), in their home. Klara is such an AF, and the story is told from her perspective - she is the narrator. Klara is very intelligent, and keeps learning from everything she experiences - but at the same time, as her perspective and experience of the world remains limited, so does her understanding.

When we first meet Klara, she "lives" in a shop that sells other AF:s like herself. They take turns being shown in the shop window vs spending their days at the back of the shop, until they are sold. Eventually, Klara gets chosen and is bought as companion to Josie, a teenage girl with serious health issues (not defined in detail), living in a house in the countryside with her mother, and a housekeeper. The parents are divorced; the father also comes into the story a couple of times. Josie also has a good friend, a boy named Rick. He is their next door (or next property) neighbour, he and Jose have been friends since childhood, and he still comes visiting quite a lot to keep Josie company. Klara stays in the room while he is there, but then remains a silent observer. Klara only gets to leave the house on a few special occasions. What she knows of the world consists mainly of what she was able to see and learn from the shop window in town, and later on from the window in Josie's bedroom, which looks out over fields, and some sort of barn on the horizon. Her sole "mission" in life (at least from her own point of view) is limited to one purpose: To help Josie.

On her own, Klara only ever goes as far as to that barn across the field that can be seen from the house (and even then, she needs help from the boy Rick to manage it). As an AF, Klara relies on solar power; and thus, in her world, the Sun sort of corresponds to how humans think of God. When Josie points to the view out of the bedroom window, and tells Klara that the barn on the horizon is where the Sun goes to bed every night, Klara takes this very literally. So when one day she sets out to visit that barn, it is in the hope of being able to speak directly to the Sun about something very important.

While this story may in some ways feel a bit "flat", and also leaves many questions unanswered, I would say that its strength is that while consistently looking at things from Klara's perspective, it forces the reader to rethink our own perception of the world, the depth of our own understanding about how things work and are related, what it means to be human, and what is really important in life.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Read/Listened to in June (2021)

 

Read in June

Back in May, I listened to the latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, The Consequences of Fear (#16). I have read all of the books in this series, but I don't own all of them;  and of those that I have, some are in print, some on Kindle and some on Audible... In June and July I decided to add two more to my Audible collection: The Journey to Munich (#12) and In This Grave Hour (#13). (I also re-read/listened to them.) This means I now have the last six books (11-16) as Audio. I'm not sure I'll bother to collect all the earlier ones, but I do like a bit of "order" in my library, if possible... ;) The Journey to Munich I think is one of those in the series that stand out as most memorable to me in retrospect (previously reviewed here in 2017)

I also bought the 6th book in the Yorkshire Murder Mystery series by J.R. Ellis: The Whitby Murders. Like the previous ones in the series, I got this one too as a very affordable Kindle+Audible deal. Besides rather likeable detectives, two characteristics that I enjoy with this series is that they're all set in typical Yorkshire environments, and they also focus a on good old-fashioned "mystery" (rather than forensics). This time, the background is a gothic festival in Whitby; a Yorkshire coastal town that also plays an important part in the classic Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897).

True To Me by Kay Bratt. I bought this one because I really liked the Scavenger's Daughters series by the same author (set in China). This one did not really speak to me the same way, though. An okay novel, but to me not as special as that other series.

From the Publisher's summary:
Quinn Maguire has a stable life, a fiancé, and what she thinks is a clear vision for her future. All of that comes undone by her mother’s deathbed confession - the absentee father Quinn spent thirty years resenting is not her real father at all. --- Quinn embarks on a journey to Maui, her mother’s childhood home, a storied paradise that holds the truth about her mother’s past ...

The Truth in our Lies by Eliza Graham. I have to be honest: I've already forgotten the basic plot and characters of this novel, in spite of finding the background setting as such interesting. Not even the publisher's summary really brings it back to me now.

From the publisher's summary:
Anna Hall was a beautiful and skilled Second World War air force operative, guiding RAF pilots during the Battle of Britain - before a bomb killed her sister and left her disfigured.  --- Recruited into a secret unit broadcasting destabilizing propaganda to Nazi Germany, Anna finds new purpose in twisting truth with lies.  --- When her undercover work is threatened with discovery, Anna needs all her instincts to untangle the truth in the lies. But what will it take for her to break down the barriers she’s built around herself?

Friday, 30 July 2021

The Powers of Nature

The  mini air cooler I got 1½ week ago turned out amazingly effective: One week after my purchase, the climate changed completely - and not just indoors...!   ;-)



In short, the past week the weather has been totally unreliable, changing from one minute to the next: from sunny with a few light clouds suddenly turning into fast flashes of lightning and massive loud 'kabooms', followed by gusts of wind and torrential rain, temporarily flooding the streets.

We have not really seen the sort of drama here that's been caused by more serious flooding in many places further south in Europe though, so I'll not dwell too long on it. Myself, I haven't needed to go anywhere special this week, and have managed to stay safe indoors during the thunderstorms, and even to sneak out for a short walk in between showers now and then. Close call sometimes, but I've stayed pretty much dry-shod so far. 

The internet has been a bit wobbly on and off but that's about the worst of my personal complaints.

If the wi-fi agrees today, I thought I might share some more photos from my recent walk by the river close to the lake (last Wednesday). In town, boats on our river are a rare sight, because there are two waterfalls/dams (and several low footbridges in between) which make boating difficult there. But closer to the lake, people use boats, canoes and paddle boards a lot more frequently (as they can then also take them out on the lake).

So please note that these are not photos of flooding, but just people having a good time... (For my own part, I've always preferred just watching from land, though!)



 







Monday, 26 July 2021

Weekend Collage

 


My aunt and uncle were in town for the weekend; and we spent some time together on Friday afternoon, and again on Sunday. On Friday we went out to the lake, and went for a walk along the river (much the same walk as in my previous post, so I did not take a lot of new photos). On Sunday, we went out of town in the other direction, to a golf club restaurant for lunch. And then back into town again, to an art gallery (or actually two, in the same building). I also visited these exhibitions recently with a friend, but I don't think I ever got round to blogging about that (it was just before the last heat wave set in...) Both galleries have exhibitions related to the city's 400 years jubilee this summer.

One gallery is showing really large water colour views of the modern city.

The name of the artist who painted these is Erik Hårdstedt.



Above: "Pre-corona" image... For many years, it's been a tradition with free concerts in the town square on Thursday nights in July. Not last year or this year, though. (Personally I can't say I've missed them, as it's not been in my own tradition to attend anyway - not all that big a fan of crowds even in normal circumstances...)

At the other art museum, one of the current exhibitions is of old photos from the archives of the local newspaper - of memorable events and famous people from the past etc. My aunt and uncle both grew up in this town, so I thought they'd enjoy seeing those. (And myself, I did not at all mind going to see both exhibitions again.)


Thursday, 22 July 2021

Escape to the Country

This week so far has offered more pleasant summer weather than last week (which was too hot). More like Swedish Summer "should" be! (I think most people would agree, although how often it actually occurs, I would not dare say...) I.e. it has still been sunny and "warm enough", but no longer extremely hot. (This also means that the indoors temperature in my flat has gradually gone down to more normal as well - phew.)

Yesterday, I went on my first proper outing since my 2nd vaccination: I took the bus out to the lake and beach just north of the city. (Last summer, with the corona situation then, and no vaccine yet, I avoided the buses and hence got no further than my own feet would take me; which has pretty much just been to the city centre and back, for 1½ year...) 

The bus to the lake (weekday afternoons) passes by my nearest bus stop and takes me out there in 15-20 minutes.

 


I'm not really a "beach person" though, and especially not in a crowd; so I usually spend most of my time there (a couple of hours) going for a stroll away from the beach, and seeking shadow. I like to follow a small dirt road with the river on one side and an allotment area with small cabins on the other; and perhaps sit down for a while on bench and look at small boats passing on the river.


 






One of my favourite wild flowers grows here, along the river. In Swedish it's called Natt-och-dag i.e. Night-and-day. The Latin name is Melampyrum nemorosum (had to look that up again). I call it a favourite because I think I've only ever seen it at this lake - which is the same lake that is close to where my grandparents lived in my childhood, and my parents in their retirement years. (It's a rather large oblong lake and our house was close the northern end of it, while this beach that is easier for me to visit now is at the southern end.)

 

Sticking out into the lake, there is also a point of land with more woodland character, with tall pine trees and birches  - also reminding of the nature at the northern end.





(Who says there are no crocodiles in Sweden??)

Back at the beach, it's always nice to finish off with an ice cream at the café. In the most busy season/hours there is also a separate ice cream stall open. (The building in front of the picture is the café; the small one in the background is the ice cream stall.)


 

Barn across the road from the bus stop. (Nowadays home to a company of some kind.)

I stayed two hours at the lake, and the whole outing was only about three hours. Still felt like a mini holiday to a different world, after all the restrictions of the past 1½ years!

...

PS. (related to my previous post) Back on Monday, I walked into town and bought myself a "mini air cooler". It's not air condition, and it does not have the capacity to cool off my whole flat. But it's small and light and easily portable (and it was cheap). It uses water to increase the effect a little bit compared to an ordinary fan. It's not the kind of fan you leave on all day, but I'm thinking it may at least help to cool me off a bit temporarily now and then when it's too hot indoors. (Not really tested yet as the temperature has gone down anyway this week.)




Sitting on the window sill in my bedroom - quite close to the foot of my bed...


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