Title: The Unit
Author: Ninni Holmqvist
Translated from the Swedish by: Marlaine Delargy
ISBN: 9781590513132, Other Press, 2009
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
First Line: It was more comfortable than I could have imagined.
I have a "new pair of shoes" for you to try on. Close your eyes and picture yourself in these circumstances:
You're either a female, aged fifty, or a male, aged sixty. You live alone. You are childless. You don't make much money, and you certainly don't have a job in any of the "important" industries. So what, you may ask? Well, if you fit this description, a nice van will come to pick you up and whisk you away to one of the climate-controlled Reserve Bank Units for biological material. There you will be given a very nice small apartment. You will have access to the best food, the best shops, the best exercise facilities, and you don't have to pay for any of it. Well, that's not quite true. You will be paying dearly for it.
If you fit the description in the above paragraph, you have been termed "dispensable" by the government. You haven't contributed your fair share to society, and now is the time that you're expected to rectify your oversight. For the next few years, you will be taken care of, but you will also be expected to participate in medical and psychological experimentation, and you will donate your organs, a little bit at a time, until it's time for your "final donation".
This is the situation that Dorrit Weger finds herself in at the beginning of The Unit, a powerful debut novel by Swedish author, Ninni Holmqvist. I felt claustrophobic from the start. As Dorrit explores her lovely new apartment, she notices cameras everywhere. Everywhere. The closets, the bathroom...everywhere. There are no windows in her apartment. No snail mail, no email, no text messages, no telephone calls. No Internet surfing without strict supervision. Many of the people in these Reserve Bank Units might seem familiar to anyone who surfs the Internet reading book blogs:
"Well, it's because there are so many intellectuals here. People who read books."
"I see," I said again.
"People who read books," he went on, "tend to be dispensable. Extremely."
"Right," I said.
"Yes," he said.
Throughout the book, Holmqvist remains matter-of-fact. She tells her tale simply and doesn't try to make it into something it's not...and that's exactly what gives The Unit its mesmerizing, chilling power. There is much food for thought in the pages of this book. I'm still wondering if I could cope living in a society such as the one the author describes. Would I be willing to give up my freedom and shorten my life to live in the lap of luxury for a few years, knowing at the end that I will have helped many people by giving up parts of my body?
I still don't know, and I'm still pondering Dorrit's behavior at book's end. As I said, there is much to think about during and after reading this haunting tale. If this is indicative of the type of story-telling Holmqvist has within her, I hope to read many more of her books in the future.
I'd like to thank Tony Viardo, Blue Dot Literary LLC, for giving me an opportunity to read this book.
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