By: Andromeda Romano-Lax
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at a critical low and the elderly are living increasingly long lives. This population crisis has precipitated a mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia—as well as the development of refined artificial intelligence to step in where humans fall short.
In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipina nurse who has been working in Japan for the last five years, is the caretaker for Sayoko Itou, an intensely private woman about to turn 100 years old. Angelica is a dedicated nurse, working night and day to keep her paperwork in order, obey the strict labor laws for foreign nationals, study for her ongoing proficiency exams, and most of all keep her demanding client happy. But one day Sayoko receives a present from her son: a cutting-edge robot caretaker that will educate itself to anticipate Sayoko’s every need. Angelica wonders if she is about to be forced out of her much-needed job by an inanimate object—one with a preternatural ability to uncover the most deeply buried secrets of the humans around it. While Angelica is fighting back against the AI with all of her resources, Sayoko is becoming more and more attached to the machine. The old woman is hiding many secrets of her own—and maybe now she’s too old to want to keep them anymore.
In a tour de force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress, and destruction. Plum Rains elegantly broaches such important contemporary conversations as immigration, the intersection of labor and technology, the ecological fate of our planet and the future of its children.
I first heard of Andromeda Romano-Lax when I picked up her first book, The Spanish Bow (review), which is still a favourite read of mine. Since then I would pick up whatever is her latest book when I come across it. So I had no idea this was her latest book until I was browsing Indigo one time.
I have to say, I’m always impressed at how this author chooses interesting topics, locations, and characer backgrounds for her stories; they make her stories especially interesting and unique. This book tackles a lot of big themes: what it means to be human, of being in touch with one’s emotions, of memory and or isolation, the importance of connecting and knowing you’re not alone. The big topic of what it means to be human was especially fascinating, presented in conjunction with the element of AI (of which was very plausible, this future that she envisioned with this story).
Having said that, I found it difficult to connect with the characters and their own worries and plights. I felt for their internal struggles, but then the conflict between Angelica and Sayoko, between Angelica and the AI, and so forth, was rather frustrating to read and I couldn’t shake off the sense of coldness that these characters exhibited. Not to mention frustrating hiw they stubbornly refrain from reaching out and giving each other a chance–could be surprising how similar their experiences are. But I guess that’s part of humanity that the author captured beautifully.
Overall Plum Rains was an interesting read. The characters were a bit frustrating for me to really enjoy the book but the themes tackled were fascinating, as was the weave between past and future storylines.