They tried to keep us alive as long as possible, in fact, and some individuals who were very fit had lived in the unit for six or seven years before they were taken in for their final donation. … They don’t use the dispensable until it is obvious that no other method and no other material is available for a particular patient with a serious illness, or in those cases where it is extremely urgent. This whole thing — “this whole free-range pig farm” as Elsa angrily called it — is in other words significantly more humane that I could have imagined at first.
(from The Unit page 112)
The Unit is an amazing debut novel by Ninni Holmqvist set in Sweden at some point in the future and centered on Dorrit Weger, a childless writer who has just turned 50. Having reached this milestone, Dorrit must report to the Second Reserve Bank Unit, where women over 50 and men over 60 must reside if they do not have children or “important” jobs. These men and women are considered dispensable and are required by the government to submit to pharmaceutical and psychological tests and give up their organs as necessary. The benefits of the unit are emphasized; they can’t leave the building and cameras watch their every move, but they have access to a beautiful garden and recreational activities and can shop, eat, and go to the theater as they please.
Of course, there is a price. They must give up a kidney here and a cornea there, and when the time comes, they’ll make a final donation. Dorrit soon learns that the residents care for one another in a way that makes the inevitable more bearable. Although she misses her dog fiercely and never intended not to get married or have children, Dorrit finds love and friendship within the unit and blossoms in a way that one wouldn’t expect considering the circumstances. Once she has something to live for, Dorrit must fight to survive.
The Unit doesn’t have any graphic scenes or outright violence, but it’s freaky and even downright scary at times. Many people are scared of aging, and Holmqvist has created a world to be feared. The scariest thing about the book is the fact that people didn’t go to the unit kicking and screaming. Even though it wouldn’t have done much good, I would’ve fought; I’m dead either way, but where there’s the possibility of escape, there’s some hope. Beyond the matter of aging and survival, Holmqvist raises several issues for discussion, including how much control the government should have over our bodies and whether having a career and being a parent truly define us.
Dorrit is an ordinary woman, and we can picture ourselves in her shoes. The book gave me the chills, but I couldn’t put it down. The Unit is among the best dystopian novels I’ve ever read, and it likely will make my list of the best books I’ve read this year.
Disclosure: I received a copy of The Unit from BlueDot Literacy, LLC for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.