Andromeda Romano-Lax’s ambitious and zeitgeisty new novel “Plum Rains” takes place in 2029 Tokyo. Much is familiar — people go to Starbucks, rely heavily on their cell phones and enjoy cherry blossoms. Elsewhere things have progressed: Self-driving cars are a given, sexbots are illegal and the nation’s low birthrate is further impacted by an “infertility crisis.”
SOHO PRESS, Science Fiction.
Forty-something-year-old Filipina Angelica Navarro is employed as a caretaker for Sayoko Itou, who is about to celebrate her 100th birthday. She’s worried about an impending Japanese language proficiency test that she must pass in order to keep her job.
One day, she arrives at work to discover that her client’s son, who lives abroad, has sent a prototype caretaker robot to keep his mother company. As if Angelica didn’t have enough on her mind already, she now has to worry about being replaced by a machine.
The android quickly makes itself indispensable. When the elderly Sayoko begins to spill her secrets of the past century to him, we learn that she isn’t actually 100 percent Japanese, and she’s been lying about her age. Many more surprises ensue.
Among other things, Romano-Lax, author of three previous well-researched historical novels, manages to weave issues such as the Japanese invasion of Taiwan, kamikaze pilots, comfort women and Japan’s dependence on foreign healthcare workers into the book’s somewhat complicated plot.
While she might have done more with less, “Plum Rains” manages at once to be entertaining, provocative and eerily plausible.