It is 2029 and the first world is troubled by an aging population compounded by a worldwide fertility crisis. In Japan this crisis has led to the importation of immigrant workers to care for the elderly, but the culture and the politics make it incredibly difficult for workers. All are required to pass rigorous language tests if they wish to stay in the country. The development of smart technology and robots are also being used to cover the needs of a less and less able-bodied population.
Angelica Navarro is a nurse for an elderly woman, Sayoko, in Tokyo, her job seemingly secure because of Sayoko's resistance to most modern medical appliances. Then, Sayoko's son gives her a new kind of care-giving robot with sympathetic technology that allows it to educated itself on its owner's needs. Angelica can only watch as a bond begins growing between the two and fear what will happen to her.
This is one of the better near-future novels I've ever read. It immerses the reader into modern life in Tokyo through Angelica's forced "outsider" perspective. Chapters from Sayoko give perspective on how Japanese culture adapted, or failed to adapt, after World War II and the upheavals of the 20th and 21st centuries.
I was a little frustrated at first with Angelica's antagonistic relationship with Hiro (the caregiver robot), but it is completely understandable once more of Angelica's background is revealed. Sayoko's seeming lack of compassion is settled as well. This book covers some complicated, fraught ground of race, globalization, ethical technology, pollution, and more with grace. There are no neat endings and people who are being victimized do not always make judgements that satisfy a reader. This was a great sociological science fiction novel, and I'm waiting for it to make greater waves in reader's circles in the coming months.