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The Unit Paperback – June 9, 2009

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Book Description
One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?

The Unit is a gripping exploration of a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care.

A Q&A with Ninni Holmqvist
Question: The Unit is not set in the present, but its echoes of present-day issues are clear and ominous. Describe the world of The Unit.

Ninni Holmqvist: The Unit is a dystopia set in a near future. It is about people who don’t have any children or anyone else who loves them and need them, and who aren’t useful to the society in any other way either. These people are called “dispensable,” and they are picked up at their homes at a certain age (women at 50, men at 60) and taken to special units (“reservbanksenhet” in Swedish) for biological material, where they are supposed to serve the society through participating in various tests (like animal testing but made on people), but also, eventually, by donating organs to those of the society’s needed citizens—the ones who produce and raise children, the loved ones, the ones who contribute to the economic growth—who are afflicted with severe illnesses and need organs from healthy bodies to survive. Dorrit Weger, who just turned 50, is one of those dispensable. She is a writer, childless, quite poor, and lives alone with her dog. The story begins with her arrival at the unit, an establishment/institution she immediately finds a lot more comfortable and human and loving and beautiful than she ever could have expected.

Question: The Unit raises a number of complex—and sometimes disturbing—ethical questions. Do you see the novel as having a central moral theme?

Ninni Holmqvist: The book is above all written as a critique of society and the way political leaders today see everything in figures and numbers. But my aim was also to raise questions like: What is freedom? What is human dignity? How do we humans value our selves and each other? But The Unit is also very much a story about love (Dorrit meets the love of her life at the unit, a man called Johannes, and she also, miraculously, gets pregnant) and friendship and loyalty.

Question: Who did you write The Unit for? Did you have someone—personally, or in society—that you intended the story for?

Ninni Holmqvist: My intention was that it is for everyone. But I guess it might especially appeal to middle-aged single people, childless ones. But also people who are in or are close to other categories of “dispensable” people: disabled people for instance, long time unemployed persons, culture workers. And people who are critical of capitalism and economism. Perhaps also people who don’t mind being provoked.

From Publishers Weekly

Swedish author Holmqvist's unconvincing debut, part of a wave of dystopias hitting this summer, is set in a near future where men and women deemed dispensable—those unattached, childless, employed in nonessential professions—are checked into reserve bank units for biological material and become organ donors and subjects of pharmaceutical and psychological experiments. When Dorrit Weger, who has lived her adult life isolated and on the brink of poverty, is admitted to the unit, she finds, to her surprise, comfort, friendship and love. Though the residents are under constant surveillance, their accommodations are luxurious, and in their shared plight they develop an intimacy rarely enjoyed in the outside world. But an unlikely development forces Dorrit to confront unexpected choices. Unfortunately, Holmqvist fails to fully sell the future she posits, and Dorrit's underdeveloped voice doesn't do much to convey the direness of her situation. Holmqvist's exploration of female desire, human need and the purpose of life has its moments, but the novel suffers in comparison with similar novels such as The Handmaid's Tale and Never Let Me Go. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513134
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513132
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By B. McEwan VINE VOICE on June 10, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Unit tells the story of a near-future society that divides its people into two groups: those who are necessary and those who are "dispensable." The latter category is comprised of women 50 years and older and men 60 and older who are childless and don't work in a "necessary" industry. Many of the dispensables are artists. The primary character, a woman named Dorrit, is a writer who has just passed her 50th birthday.

Because they do not contribute to the future society by raising children, the dispensable people are considered selfish. They followed their dreams of self-fulfillment and therefore when they reach late middle age it's time to "pay the piper," so to speak, by offering themselves up for scientific experimentation and organ donation. The Unit is the housing/medical facility where they live while serving as test subjects, until it comes time to make their "final donation," usually their hearts and lungs. These donations are always made to people who are "needed" by their families.

Originally written in Swedish, the novel is marvelously translated by Marlaine Delargy. I say this not because I can read Swedish but because the English translation gave me chills as I read it. Anyone who can create prose that, quite literally, fills readers with anxiety and fear must, it seems to me, have created a superior translation.

One of the many things that is striking about the plot of The Unit is that, once inside the medical facility, the dispensables generally find freedom and an ability to be themselves that they lacked on the outside, where they were made to feel different and generally useless.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dorrit Weger is dispensable; she lives alone with her dog and no one relies on her. She has not created a new family unit or added 'value' to society in some other notable way and so, as she turns 50, she is collected in a minivan and driven off to the Unit of the book's title. A cross between a retirement community and experimental medical center, her new home is comfortable, even luxurious, and for the first time in her life, Dorrit finds herself forming close relationships and even falling in love. She has become needed by others -- but she is still dispensable. And like all the Unit's inhabitants, over the coming years, she will participate in a range of human experiments, from the relatively benign (how does intense exercise affect the body; is bonding with children inherent even among those who haven't had them) to the more intrusive -- she must donate one of her kidneys to a "needed" member of the outer community. And she, like all her new friends and her new lover, Johannes, knows that with each day that passes, the day of her 'final donation' -- of her heart, lungs or some other part of her body that she can't exist without to someone whom society decides is 'needed' -- will arrive. In the words of one of Dorrit's new friends, she is now living in a 'free-range pig farm'. The only difference, Elsa notes, is that pigs and hens are "hopefully -- happily ignorant of anything but the present."

This novel is a stunning achievement, an imaginative tour de force.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By pleureur. on June 6, 2009
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The Unit is a gripping novel reminiscent of the surveillance and control of Orwell's 1984, the reproductive problems of Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, and the genetic experimentation of Huxley's Brave New World, with something of White's Charlotte's Web mixed in, but at its core, the story is hard to believe.

Dorrit is a 50 year old woman living in a version of Stockholm, possibly in the near future. She is a single woman with no children and no particular social attachments -- except to her dog. She has never had a romantic relationship, just a serious of "casual liasons," most recently with a man who "almost" loves her.

It is a cautionary tale, to be sure, but of what, exactly, I remained somewhat unclear. The obvious target is the idea of a utilitarian society bent on using the bodies of socially unnecessary people to keep the rest of society alive. These older people have their organs and body parts harvested through organ donation (in small bits at first, such as the cornea or one kidney, until the "final donation" is made) and as subjects of what seem to be amazingly poorly designed studies of various medical treatments. Apparently rats are too expensive in this society to figure out that one pill is contaminated with poisons, for example, and another study had 90% serious side effects, including death; we are led to believe that people are so desperate for organs that they readily accept these contaminated specimens. This model of health care and societal structure are clearly repugnant as well as hard to imagine.

After further reflection upon finishing the novel, I came back to something a member of the staff said to the new arrivals during Dorrit's orientation, and that is that finally they would be in a place where they would feel welcome and comfortable.
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