(A review by Sidharth Vardhan of Little Eyes / Kentukis (2018) by Samanta Schweblin. Review first published on July 22, 2020)
Kentukis are toys – toys that look like animal toys except with a camera fitted in them. This camera automatically connects to a random person from elsewhere in the world who has brought a ‘connection’. No one knows who they will connect to, or where that person must love or if it is a child, boy or girl. They don’t know how long a connection will last. And if the kentuki is not charged, it will be disconnected when its power runs out. Kentukis don’t have a direct way to communicate except in screams, but they can move around which opens several opportunities for communication.
The book contains disconnected stories based around these toys which what often end up being the Black Mirror-esque themes.
Three themes I will mention. The first theme is the obvious one – that of the ‘peeping tom’ along with all the blackmailing opportunities they represent. Kentukis is like letting a random stranger roam around your house carrying a camera. Not all want to blackmail of course, there is a story where the kentuki dweller turns out to be pedophilic. Sometimes people are just curious about the lives of others. Sometimes they just want to be elsewhere in the world. In at least one story, it was a person who loved the idea of being cared for – even if in the form of a mechanical animal toy.
The second theme is another social problem only made much stronger by the age of selfie-culture. If you were wondering why would anyone buy a kentuki, then this is the answer. Kentukis may just appear as harmless fans to People with that narcissist desire to be seen and admired. So many stories have women showing their naked bodies to Kentukis willingly.
The third, perhaps not so obvious, theme is one relating to how people behave with their animals. Although in this case, these pets are mechanical, yet where the owners do get angry, the torture they inflict on kentukis at times is disturbing. Kentukis obviously can’t talk or show protest unless their owner is willing to create a way for them to do so. The owner, on the other hand, can command them around. (A lot of D/s symbolism in that if you think about it). So often, the relationship boils down to the convenience of owners, which if you think about it, is the kind of relationship we have with pets – wanting to buy and own a pet has always seemed to me more an act of narcissistic self-love then animal love.
To be honest, the story seemed so true to our times that I kept thinking Kentukis might actually be a great product in today’s market.
There are of course some other themes. Probably since it is more of science fiction than contemporary literature, the prose is simple and not the special thing like from Schweblin’s other two books I have read. Her strong imagination though is not missing.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan