The Unit is a thought-provoking and beautifully written debut novel for Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist. Dorrit Weger, upon turning 50, checks into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. Because she has no children, no spouse or lover with whom she households, and no job in a progressive industry, she is deemed dispensable by the government. She is not a “needed” one.
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Unit takes us through the progress of dispensable–women over 50 and men over 60, who meet these criteria. They live in relative luxury; the Second Reserve Bank Unit is a picturesque complex where it is always spring and restaurants, shops, and fitness centers are all free. In exchange, residents undergo humane drug and physical testing, minor organ and tissue donation, and eventually, a final donation.
Residents are quick to form friendships and relationships, and we follow Dorrit through her initiation and subsequent struggle in coming to terms with her own self-worth, and the eventual loss of those with whom she has grown close. When Dorrit learns that she is pregnant, she is faced with a loss that she cannot imagine and is presented with an opportunity to escape. Because the compound is under constant surveillance, Dorrit must act quickly and decisively when an opportunity arises, taking the reader on an unexpected journey.
As Holmqvist explores the mandatory government program through the eyes of the participants, one is tempted to “drink the Kool-Aid” and entertain the thought that human life could be exchanged in an economy where one’s value is measurable. How easy would it be to walk away from financial obligations, the stress of unemployment, or housing woes, especially if there is no one to share the burden with you? This concept is not cut and dried, and Holmqvist deftly moves the reader through stages of resentment, acceptance, denial, peace, and grief in such a way that the concept is momentarily considered as a possibility. This highly discussable book would be an excellent choice for a book club.
Lisa is an oldish girl who enjoys simple living and hopes to homestead someday. When she is not reading, she is either knitting, crocheting, or sewing funky little things for her family and friends. She enjoys the company of her husband, daughters, and rescue dogs.