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The Unit

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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?

268 pages, Trade Paper

First published August 29, 2006

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About the author

Ninni Holmqvist

51 books98 followers
Ninni Holmqvist lives in Skåne, Sweden. She is the author of three short-story collections, including 'Kostym (Suit)', and two novels. She also works as a translator.

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5 stars
2,358 (23%)
4 stars
3,970 (40%)
3 stars
2,588 (26%)
2 stars
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1 star
218 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,400 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
July 25, 2019
hmmm. so this was supposed to be for my "october is dystopian/apocalyptic month." and for most people, this book would definitely fall on the dystopian side of things. am i crazy for thinking i could thrive (for a few years anyway, until i run out of parts) in this type of environment? here's the rundown: if ladies don't have kids by the age of 50, and men by 60, and they have no elderlies of their own to take care of, or a job that involves caring for others (teacher, doctor, etc), they get shipped off to a facility where they are housed in pretty plush apartments (with cameras, but no biggie), amazing-sounding food, exercise facilities, library, theater etc. the catch is that you have to perform in drug-testing or psychological experiments and eventually give up your organs. eventually, all of them. but imagine living for three years uninterrupted, getting to read and eat and be left alone with no job or responsibilities except keeping your organs in good condition? this appeals so much to the part of me that wants to go to a loony bin or jail or somewhere just... away... where i can be left alone to read and not have to worry about what i will eat or wear or how i will pay for things. i think about it more than is probably healthy, but it would be so nice to just not take responsibility for once.but this book kind of made my mouth water. because i don't see mommy-ing in my future, and someone should get a use from my parts, right?? i'm big on being useful. and i was giving blood yesterday, thinking "yeah, i could get used to this... take my kidney, take some marrow, whatever..." (i really love giving blood) so as long as they take my eyes last, and i can still read - sign me up, sweden - i give you my body.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews692 followers
July 4, 2017
For women turning 50 (60 for men), it is the beginning of the end. You have no children, no partner, no one depending on you. You have just become officially dispensable. You are about to be installed in the Reserve Bank Unit. The longer you can contribute, the longer you live.

Plausible? Nah. Not a bit. It doesn't keep this from being disturbing as hell, especially if you are no longer a young'un.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,713 followers
July 5, 2011
The Unit is billed as a Sci-Fi dystopia. If so, it's just barely so. It's speculative with a lower case "s" but little more than that.

Told in the first person by Dorrit Weger -- the most insipid, pathetic, annoying narrator I've read in years -- The Unit is about a future in Sweden where old "dispensable" people (women at fifty and men at sixty who have no families or partners who've avowed love for them), are harvested for their organs and made subjects for medical testing while living the cushiest of lives in a utopian Organ Bank Unit, complete with live and movie theatres, art gallery, library, great food, lovely little shops, fantastic fitness facilities, and a gorgeous park straight out of a Monet painting.

And they live there charmed little end of life until their final donation when the surgeons take their senior citizen heart or pancreas or liver or some other big organ and give it to someone who's needed in the outside world, when, of course, they die. Boo hoo. I am so sad for them. Or I'm supposed to be, but Ninni Holqvist managed to strip me of pity and just fill me full of "Suck it up!"

And that's just my emotional response.

How on earth are senior citizen organs viable options -- on a large scale -- for transplant into youths? Moreover, Holmqvist goes to great lengths to constantly remind us that tobacco and alcohol are not allowed in the Unit because of the deleterious effects they have on the residents bodies, but apparently experimental radiation therapies, hormone therapies and psychotropic drugs have no such impacts, since subjects give organs even after their own health fails because of the testing. What?!

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Holmqvist's political and philosophical concepts are poorly executed. Her male characters are poorly drawn. Her pacing is just plain poor. There is no suspense, no tension and nothing compelling. But there are plenty of cheese sandwiches and Dorrit's constant obsession with the dog she left behind to keep us going.

I almost gave this book a second star, though, because the ending was precisely what Dorrit would have done in the situation in which she found herself. But nope. Even the two decent sex scenes couldn't overcome my disdain. I hated this book too much for that or that. So one star.

I hope Ms. Holmqvist is one of those pretentious "literary" authors who deny that their work is Science Fiction because I expect my Sci-Fi to be good, and I'd hate to have her sully my favourite genre with the presence of this book. Steer clear, my friends, steer clear.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,269 followers
March 1, 2021
Dystopian literature seems dominated by books with courageous and defiant teen protagonists. While some are enjoyable, the majority I cannot relate to. I rarely connect with a 15- or even 20-year old and get annoyed that more and more dystopia and science fiction are centered around teenage characters. 

It was a relief to see this dystopian novel that has a middle-age woman as the MC. While I had some minor issues with this novel, for the most part I enjoyed it.

It's set in Sweden in the near future, when middle age and elderly people are deemed less important than economic growth and young people who have children and are still able to reproduce. Actually, the same is true today. 

As the author asserts in her note at the end, in Sweden (and I would argue in much of the world), "you need to be needed in order to count, to be regarded as normal, to have a value in the eyes of other people and society."

In The Unit, middle age people who have not reproduced are considered dispensable. They are moved into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material where they spend the rest of their days living in luxury... if luxury can be defined to include a life where all your needs are met and even surpassed, but where you must slowly die by donating your organs and be a lab rat for pharmaceutical companies. 

This is the story of Dorrit, a fifty-year-old woman who never married or had kids and now finds herself forced to move into the Second Reserve Bank Unit. 

There is not much action and the story is contemplative, asking difficult questions about the value of individual lives and showing the importance -demand even- society places upon women to reproduce. It demonstrates how women become invisible in middle age, and how our value is determined by both our reproductive ability and how much we produce. 

If your idea of a good dystopia involves lots of action, you should look elsewhere. However, if you enjoy introspective reads that explore the value of human life and how that value is determined, you will find much to appreciate in this well-written novel. 
Profile Image for whimsicalmeerkat.
1,270 reviews57 followers
January 8, 2015
The Unit is the saddest piece of dystopian fiction I have ever read. Normally the genre leaves me angry or frightened or feeling the need for a good shower, but this made me feel heartbroken. The Unit is a place where women who have reached the age of 50 and men who have reached the age of 60 without having children are sent to live in order to participate in "humane" experiments and act as organ donors for the so-called needed. These people are known as dispensable.

The story portrayed is one where these people are provided a life of complete luxury with no cost to themselves, but also have no freedom to leave, no rights to privacy, and are compelled to participate in whatever experiments and physical sacrifices required of them. Psychology is used to great effect to keep them happy. Eventually they all go for their "final donation," the surgery in which all of their vital organs are harvested for the benefit of needed people. Ninni Holmqvist paints a painful picture of people who feel they have failed and never found love, of people who have always been lonely, being thrust into proximity, finding love or friendship, then constantly losing those people to the demands of the Unit. This book disturbed me greatly and will stay with me for some time.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,063 reviews496 followers
January 11, 2021
The premise of the novel was good. It was the telling…the boring details…I think this could have been at best a novella with what sketch this author developed. Not 268 pages.

The premise: Men at age 60 and women at age 50 who are single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries (from inner cover of dust jacket) are housed in very comfortable environs…sort of like a very nice assisted-living facility with shops, a theater, restaurants, etc. etc. And you are expected to over the course of 6 or 7 years donate body parts to younger people who need them, and participate in scientific experiments. Take drugs with known terrible side effects. One women participated in a study and I guess the drug turned on male sex hormones or something. One drug caused brain atrophy. And there were cameras all over the place monitoring your every movement. Big brother… The first 50 or so pages were interesting enough and then it just got incredibly boring. Like I say, I guess this could have made for a very nice short story or at most a novella of 100 pages, but this was going nowhere fast (or actually going nowhere slowly).

I do not have much more to say on the matter. 😐

I cannot recommend that this book be placed on your TBR list.

• from a blogsite: http://jeanzbookreadnreview.blogspot....
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,437 followers
April 11, 2018
In the world this novel portrays, the 'dispensable' are sent to live in self-contained communities known as 'units'. Being dispensable means you are over 50 (if you're a woman) or 60 (if you're a man), single, childless, with no dependent older relatives, and work in a 'non-essential' job. In seemingly idyllic surroundings like those of the 'Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material', the dispensable can live as they please, with a shopping centre, theatre, cinema, art gallery, regular parties and generous spreads of food – and all this is free. But they are under constant surveillance, can never leave, must submit to all sorts of medical testing, and will ultimately be required to make their 'final donation', which is exactly as ominous as it sounds.

Our narrator, Dorrit, is a moderately successful writer who was able to scrape together enough money to buy a house, but can't afford to maintain it. Her long-term lover is married and refuses to leave his wife, she's never had children, and her only dependent is her beloved dog Jock. And her 50th birthday is looming. In short, she's the epitome of dispensable, and at the start of The Unit she is contemplating her beautiful, yet deeply sinister, new home.

This is a clean, minimalist sort of dystopian tale. The language is simple and straightforward. Problems between people are resolved with relative ease, contributing to the sense of dreamy unreality surrounding the Unit. Of course, it's obvious there is horror lurking beneath the glossy surface, and it's impossible to imagine a happy ending for Dorrit. Speaking of Dorrit: she's a difficult character to get along with, displaying qualities that seem in conflict with each other – tough independence at the same time as an intense, subservient neediness. I couldn't quite get to grips with who she was supposed to be.

I also found the simplicity of the narrative problematic with regards to the many plausibility issues. Through Dorrit, we learn of an (unsurprising) national obsession with becoming 'needed'. The easiest way to do that is to have children – the more the better – and legislation has helped things along with, for example, compulsory childcare: 'there is no longer any excuse not to have children... [or] not to work when you have children'. How is overpopulation not a concern here? How is all this – both the free childcare and the lavish Unit – being paid for? Surely organs from older, poorer people would be a really inefficient solution for health problems in the young and privileged? Why do so many of the 'needed' require major organ transplants anyway? There's a weird, contradictory contrast between what seems to be the enforced removal of traditional gender roles (in this world, it's illegal for men to demonstrate 'improper use of male physical strength' by, for example, helping a woman do something she could do by herself) and the fact that women are considered virtually useless if they don't have kids. And the only time we hear about non-heterosexual relationships is within the Unit itself.

The Unit is an entertaining, intriguing novel, yet it's often frustrating too. The premise raises so many questions, but the story doesn't focus on answering them – it's more about Dorrit's personal experience, and a lot depends on how engaging you find her. This was average overall for me, but honestly, if there was a sequel that explored and explained this vision of society in more detail, I'd probably read it.

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Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,544 reviews
July 3, 2015
There are cases where I don't agree with the premise of a book, either because of my hangups or because it seems far out, and I still like the book. That's not the case with this book. It was distracting in its similarity in concept to one of my favorite books ever, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. And I can only say that this book disappointed in contrast.

I was not moved by this book, even though I was supposed to have been. I was more concerned with how this is even viable. The dispensable senior citizens are housed in luxury (I mean, Italian shoes and silk shirts and what have you). They're supposed to gradually donate all their organs to "needed" people of the community. In the middle of their donations, they get to participate in all kinds of experiments (even some involving freaking chemical weapons). They have not been monitored their entire life, they could have lived really terribly. Their organs are old in the first place, not to mention the toll that the experiments take on the thing. A few of the characters die from complications due to experimentation, and their organs are still harvested. I can't even.

It's also completely baffling to me that this needed thing wasn't circumvented more. If some people did it beyond raping strangers for their sperm*, it's not deemed important enough to mention. At least in the beginning, they only need a partner to say they are loved and needed to be saved. I have no idea why no one would consider mutual scratching of backs. I know I would have.

*= The main character's sexual fantasy is to be one of those 50s TV housewives with the fluttering hands and the cute dresses. She cooks for her man, who chops wood and does manly man stuff, comes in and services her after eating her nice meal. The first time she does it with an old guy in her unit, she calls it caveman style sex, where he did all the work and she moved not a finger. Nothing wrong, I guess, to each their own. Except the book tries to get preachy - she thinks it's beautiful when men show their physical strength, without being ashamed or apologetic about it. And that more women should be delicate daisies - because that's courage. Yeah. Anyway. The sperm raping thing. These are women, right? After more than a few mentions of women picking up strangers, there's no mention of men taking women hostage and making them have babies or whatever. Too nice, I guess.

I'm hesitant in advancing this, but it's actually spelled out: the main character calls herself a product of the feminist generation. That her mother drilled into her to never find herself depending on a man financially or emotionally, to be independent. To not let get caught in a trap (presumably of marriage and baby-making). And the lady says it's because of this that she never had a good, steady job or a good, steady relationship. And since her mother raised her to be independent, she ended up on a path that sees her dispensable, and in an organ farming unit. She co-relates this. I can't help but think this regressive, especially given how the unit is accepted. There is no talk of mutiny, there is no talk of escaping among the people. The state of the world is not discussed, but no one mentions leaving the country for another more liberal. There are even lines that say that the unit, and the government that enforces it, is rather humane when it comes right down to it.

I... Let's just say I did not follow the intention of this book at all.
Profile Image for Suzanne (Chick with Books) Yester.
116 reviews21 followers
November 1, 2009
Ninni Holmqvist's novel is compelling and disturbing at the same time. From the first turn of the page I was drawn into the futuristic world where childless women who have reached the age 50 and childless men at age 60 are "welcomed" into The Unit. A beautiful spa like setting with walking paths, beautiful gardens', wonderful food, medical experiments and body harvesting from their "residents". Our protagonist is Dorrit, a woman who never had a steady job, had a lover who lived with someone else, and whose loyal dog Jock who was her only family. But without children and not contributing in some job deemed worthy, Dorrit is considered "dispensable". As she gives up her lover, her dog, and her home and gets picked up by The Unit, we enter the world of the "dispensables" and what life means for them. It is a sad, touching and even at times humorous story, that makes us question, what makes a person indispensable? Who has the right to discount a life just because it doesn't conform to the "standard". In The Unit, the government makes that decision, and it is infuriating! I kept trying to think of ways of Dorrit and her new found friends to get out of there. I was angered at how accepting Dorrit was by her circumstances. But part of that acceptance is a kind of new found "family" of people, who care about each other and who finally have found a place where they "fit in". For days after finishing The Unit I was haunted. An amazing book, and one worth reading and discussing!
734 reviews16 followers
March 2, 2010
This was nearly a five star book for me and I don't give those out very often--probably only a few of them in the hundreds of books I've rated since starting this a few years ago. The only reason it didn't get 5 stars was because of the ending--big mistake for Holmqvist that didn't ruin it for me but it could have been a real classic dystopian novel. It was still really, really good but five stars is for the elite of the elite to me.

The Unit is set in Sweden in the near future and is a dystopian novel--I love dystopian fiction! When women turn 50 (and men when they are 60) and if they are childless and deemed unneeded by others in Swedish society, they are taken to these biological "units." At these places, people are farmed for organs and have experiments done on them. They donate a kidney, an eye, etc etc to people who are needed and worthy to keep living. They donate their parts until they make their "final" donation of liver, heart and other organs.

This book is incredibly well done and thought out--except for the last few pages!--and is one of the best dystopian works I've read recently. It's very believable that this could take place. I had to stop myself from reading it all at once as it is a chilling, chilling tale.

You know what, after writing this, even with a kind of disappointing last few pages, screw it, I'm giving this a five star as it's a great, great work of dystopian literature.

***Thought about it and giving 5 stars for a book where I didn't like the ending can't be done. So, I've gone back to my original 4 stars after agonizing over it all afternoon, ha!***
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
May 1, 2010
There is a good summary of the plot in the book’s description field (it’s basically what I read in/on the book’s cover) so I don’t see the need to repeat any of the information in my review.

I loved this book and I think it is excellent, but it is also the most personally depressing book I’ve ever read, worse than The Bell Jar when I was 19, maybe as bad as As We Are Now if I read at age 79 or 80 vs. reading it first when I was 19 or 20.

Recipe for feeling devastated by this book (even more than those such as myself who have a highly empathetic nature):

woman over 50 (or man over 60): check
childless: check
single: check
loves dogs: check
values private time: check
values having a fair amount of control over their life: check

Very powerful story and for me it was palpably painful and emotionally grueling.

Dorrit tells the story in first person and she tells it brilliantly, how well I wasn’t aware until well into the book, although I enjoyed it from first to last page. I was very aware that I would not have fared as well as her, in any way. (Being physically uncomfortable when reading it: post minor eyelid surgery and foot injury & infection made reading this even more chilling.)

Three things happen toward the end that worked, but I wasn’t so sure if that is the direction I’d have taken the story had I written it. I think some readers are going to hate the ending but it worked for me well enough.

I don’t know how good the translation is, but between the author and translator, it’s beautifully written.
Profile Image for Quirkyreader.
1,540 reviews43 followers
October 19, 2017
I am a bit ambiguous about this book. The translator did a wonderful job translating the story into English. And it was very fast paced and enjoyable.

What has me torn is the fact there is another book with a similar premiss. Just that the age group is different. So I am having a hard time separating the two.

Aside from that, it is a wonderful story.
Profile Image for Olga Kowalska (WielkiBuk).
1,463 reviews2,374 followers
February 18, 2019
Przerażająca na ten swój zimny, spokojny, skandynawski sposób wizja dystopijnej przyszłości, w której każdy może stać się zbędny – „Jednostka” Ninni Holmqvist.

Wyobraź sobie świat, w którym rządzą zimne liczby, a człowiek zredukowany jest do ciała. Społeczeństwo, które nie potrafi odmówić, nie potrafi wyrazić sprzeciwu, ale biernie poddaje się woli wszechobecnego państwa. Wyobraź sobie placówkę, do której może trafić każdy, który już nie jest potrzebny, z kogo, według ustalonych kryteriów, nie będzie już pożytku. Ostatnie pożegnania, porzucone domy, spakowany dorobek życia w walizce, sztuczny uśmiech na twarzy. A potem kilka dni pięknej iluzji, państwowej fatamorgany, który prowadzi ku jednemu – ku śmierci.

„Jednostka” przeraża i wrzeszczy ku przestrodze. Ninni Holmqvist nie robi tego jednak agresywnie czy brutalnie, ale po cichu, tak po skandynawsku, jakby szeptem, ale wystarczająco głośno, by przypomnieć, że utylitarna wizja przyszłości to wizja, której możemy uniknąć, której musimy uniknąć, by pozostać cywilizacją. Opowieść, którą snuje jest jasna, przestronna, dająca czytelnikowi wystarczająco miejsca na oddech, ale też w jakiś sposób obezwładniająca, zdehumanizowana, surowa na tyle, że wzmaga poczucie osaczenia z każdą stroną. Paraliżuje i utrzymuje uwagę od początku do samego końca.

To jedna z najciekawszych i najbardziej realistycznych powieści dystopijnych ostatnich lat.
Profile Image for Okoń w sieci.
207 reviews1,377 followers
February 12, 2019
FILMOWA RECENZJA: www.bit.ly/jednostka


Czy to już ten moment, w którym popsuliśmy świat do tego stopnia, że takie powieści jak "Jednostka" to nie wizja przyszłości, a obraz teraźniejszości?
Biorąc pod uwagę przedstawiony przez autorkę model systemu wartości, odpowiem, że tak.
Zewsząd ogarniająca nas apatia. Egoizm. Bezduszność. Interesowność.
Możecie wstawić dowolny synonim. Będzie pasował.
Skoro dopadły mnie takie refleksje, to wystarczy, abym ocenił tę książkę, jako wartą przeczytania.
Wybaczam autorce powierzchowność w pewnych kwestiach i niskiej jakości wątek miłosny. Ten był akurat niezbędny do kreacji głównej bohaterki.
Dziękuję za skandynawski minimalizm - oszczędność w słowie. Przeczytałem szybko. Trawiłem długo. Przeraża, ostrzega, ale nie zachwyca. Chyba ze względu na spojrzenie tylko z jednej perspektywy.
Dostawiłbym jednak plusa tej trójce.
Profile Image for frau.gedankenreich.
233 reviews89 followers
January 7, 2021
„Wir sind wie glückliche Kühe oder freilaufende Hühner. Der einzige Unterschied ist, dass die Kühe und die Hühner – hoffentlich – das Glück haben, von etwas anderem als dem Jetzt nichts zu wissen." [S.55]

Dorrit Weger ist 50, unverheiratet, kinderlos, hat als Schriftstellerin keinen nachhaltigen Mehrwert und leistet auch sonst keinen nennenswerten Beitrag, der Wohlstand und Wachstum der Gesellschaft zugutekommt. Damit gehört sie automatisch dem Kreis der „Entbehrlichen“ an und wird kurz nach ihrem Geburtstag in eine streng ��berwachte Reservebankeinheit für biologisches Material eingeliefert. Fortan muss sie sich für psychologische bzw. Medikamententests und Organentnahmen zur Verfügung stellen, bis es dann schlussendlich zur sogenannten „Endspende“ kommt, die unweigerlich zum Tode führt.

„Ich ging weiter; nickte, lächelte oder sagte Hej zu den Leuten, denen ich begegnete. Einige von ihnen kannte ich schon. Die meisten erkannte ich wieder. Eine geringe Anzahl sah ich zum ersten Mal. Den ein oder anderen sah ich zum letzten Mal.“ [S.76]

Ein schreckliches Szenario, was den Gedanken der absoluten Leistungsgesellschaft auseinandernimmt und das Miteinander in der Gesellschaft im allgemeinen kritisch hinterfragt.
Das Buch hat eine gewisse Schwere, bleibt dabei aber zutiefst menschlich. Scharf beobachtet und klug erzählt kratzt es an den Grenzen des Vorstellbaren und zeigt auf, dass der Wert eines Menschen nicht messbar ist und sich oftmals in kleinen Dingen wiederfindet.
Für mich ein Volltreffer aber sicherlich nicht für jeden geeignet.
Profile Image for Carin.
Author 1 book103 followers
March 24, 2010
At the end of this book I cried. Not with sadness at Dorrit's sacrifice and losses. But because since I've been an adult, I've never read a book that I felt so understood me. Those were the words I thought to myself as hot tears came to my eyes: "she understands." It is Elsa I cried for. And all the others.

When you read a lot, you recognize that those tropes you hear about how there are oly 7 plots in the world (or 10 or 5 or 3) are true. So when you run across a book with a truly novel point of view, you treasure it. I can recall no other book I've read that treats the single and childless with such respect. (And that respect that the members of the Unit are shown is frequently noted as it's the first time they've felt it int heir lived.)

I dread my bookclub. As the only member who is single and one of only two who are childless, I feel I will be focussed on. But this book has left me raw and I don't particularly want to talk about how I would feel heading off to a Unit as that's where I'd be headed in that world while everyone else stayed and didn't even notice I was gone for a couple of years. My only hope would be to work hard and become invaluable that way.

This book is powerful and heart-wrenching. It will stay with me forever.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,351 reviews414 followers
December 6, 2014
3.75 stars. This book takes place in Sweden, sometime in the near future. Dorret Weger has just turned 50 and must surrender her existence and dog, in order to be remanded to the Unit. 50+ year old women and 60+ year old men, deemed not needed by society go to the Unit, where they are subjected to various testing and organ harvesting. One is "dispensable" if s/he does not have children or does not create economic growth, so there are many artists and writers. Life is sterile but pleasant for the inhabitants, and Dorrit finds more friends than she has ever had before. Then she falls deeply in love, and miraculously gets pregnant despite her age. Has she become useful now, and what will happen to her, the father and the baby? A sympathetic worker provides her with a means to escape the Unit. Will they break out? What I liked best about this book was the way it conveyed the Swedish view of life, and a myriad of social issues. Excellent job by the translator.
Profile Image for Cindy.
257 reviews263 followers
June 28, 2010
Wow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.

It's the near-future in Sweden, a society that values capital and societal value above individual life. If you are childless, not in a protected job, have no dependents and no loving relationship, you are considered to be "dispensable." Dispensables are taken to The Unit at age 50 for women or 60 for men-i.e. after they are no longer reproductively viable, with the intent to give back to society through their own body. They donate body parts, participate in drug trials and scientific experiments, all while living in a little enclosed Club Med-like "utopic" dollhouse.

It's a very disturbing situation that Dorrit, our narrator, seems to implicitly accept, even while grieving the loss of her independence, privacy and solitude. She was a novelist who loved living alone, in a remote little cottage with her spotted dog, Jock. Cracks start to form in Dorrit's acceptance and beliefs in society. The new close relationships she develops in The Unit - unlike any relationships she's had before - create an unusual situation for her. She eventually has to decide between those relationships, her place in society and the common good.

I think what's remarkable is Holmqvist's simple, stark, straight-forward writing can still pull you into an unusual world and the complex mental state of a Dispensable. This book will hit you between the eyes if you have made life choices that are out of the mean for our society.

In the end, I'm not sure if Holmqvist is making a statement about capitalism or socialism. The dystopia is not created by some sort of totalitarian regime (as in The Handmaid's Tale or 1984) or as a response to a world-wide catastrophe (as in A Canticle for Leibowitz). Instead, it appears that the democratic society has decided that people who add no value or capital to the society should donate their organs to the more deserving, and remove themselves from life. Somehow everyone is convinced they are choosing this option, yet no one appears to have a choice or claim on their own life. This seems more insidious: to grow up believing that some people have more rights to their life than others just based on who they are.

I was wavering between four and five stars for this one. Ultimately, I can't deny the power of a book that makes me hold my breath and cry and grieve for the characters.
Profile Image for Michelle Morrell.
1,041 reviews75 followers
August 22, 2017
The Unit is a near future, Swedish take on dystopia. In here, being useful or needed is the highest priority, and your contribution to society is crucial. Women aged 50 and men 60 that are considered "dispensable" are taken to a complex where they are expected to life a life of comfort and companionship and do their part for society through medical and psychological experiments, tissue donation, and, eventually, final donation.

I was struck by a few things here. First, what the Swedish dystopian view of "indispensible" is. Having a child. Having a good income. Having a critical profession. Giving back to society. All can exempt you from The Unit. But vaguely self-sufficient people who putter around the world, usually making art of some sort? A potential drain on society, and therefore a risk to the greater good.

Also, there wasn't a lot of "highest bidder" assumptions. If this were the US, of course people could pay for extended life. Capitalism-based-cruelty. But here it's seen as giving back because someone living a more worthy life needs it more, it's an honorable end.

Also, there was a lot of resignation. No "we must bring down the system!" or multi-volume sagas of courage and fight. More a quiet overarching sense of acceptance that this is the fate of the dispensible.

We get plenty of musing on what constitutes a good life, on why the childless are considered lesser, the lonliness that comes as society moves in a different direction than the individual. But it's rarely spelled out that this is wrong on a moral level. We are sympathetic observers to an individual's struggle to accept that her life is considered less worthy to the outside.

This has stuck with me, maybe because the dreaded 50 is heading straight at me like a freight train. Or maybe because I struggle with how "indispensible" I am in my life, though it's the opposite side of the coin, raising three kids on my own knowing I'd leave a massive mom-sized hole if I were gone.

Side note, this was translated really well. I never felt like I was missing perspective or subtlety. I disagreed with the choices made in this, especially towards the end, but I still understood why they were made, why these choices were right for her.
Profile Image for Becky.
56 reviews
March 2, 2013
Brief synopsis: Dorrit turns 50 in a dystopian future Scandinavia, where people her age are politely imprisoned and harvested for parts if they've not managed to establish a family.

I wanted to love this book, because I love dystopian novels, and I've loved a couple other books with similar themes (notably Never Let Me Go and The Handmaid's Tale, two of my favorite novels). And while I liked it fine, I didn't manage to fall in love with Dorrit or her story. It delved into some themes that have some importance to me personally—if you grow older alone, without a spouse or children, is your life less meaningful and purposeful? But while the whole novel circled around this theme, I never felt like Holmqvist really nailed it. In the end, the meaning in Dorrit's life at the friendly organ-snatching prison is about her ability to establish a family, even though most of that quasi-family is one that develops by happenstance with the other men and women who are waiting to make 'final donations'. I would've liked to feel reassured that Dorrit's life had meaning and value on its own. There's a bit of this (Dorrit is a writer, for instance, and there are some suggestions that the novel is a record she's left behind). But I felt like the story was more about Dorrit building spouse-, sister-, and mother-style bonds with others.

The book also shares very little information on how society got to this horrific point, or much about how the outside world copes with the knowledge that these prisons exist. Which doesn't ruin the story, but is a little disappointing. I would've liked to have known.

There are some really lovely moments in the book. I loved Dorrit's relationship with her dog. And I loved that the descriptions of all the prison amenities (free food, a garden in constant bloom, saunas) sometimes lulled me into a feeling that the place might not actually be a bad place to end up—and then someone would lose a pancreas or something. So that was done really effectively. I was just hoping for...a bit more.
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 12 books2,153 followers
September 26, 2019
3.5 stars. This was a very readable, but slightly flawed dystopian novel set in the near future (technology has hardly changed). When women reach 50 and men reach 60 they are taken out of society and live in 'the unit' if they aren't carers (for children, for older people etc). The unit is luxurious and we follow Dorrit as she comes into the unit, makes friends, and finds love. All people placed there - dispensibles - have to participate in all sorts of trials of drugs and psychological tests, donate organs to those living in society, and usually about three years after their arrival give a final donation which kills them. I really had to know what happened to Dorrit, and I couldn't stop reading - and there were some very moving sections, as well as interesting questions posed about the value of women without children etc. I also really liked the ending - a brilliant last line.
There are some flaws though with the world-building: if it's set in the near future, what has brought civilisation to this turn of events? This is barely touched on, but it must have been momentous for society to agree to such a thing. The characters never discuss it. Also nearly everyone has to undergo some toxic trials, and yet society still wants their organs? That seems unlikely.
And finally, some of the writing (or translation) was a little clunky.
Profile Image for Jilly.
1,838 reviews6,245 followers
October 8, 2014
If you are feeling philosophical, depressed, and in a very dark place - and you want to stay in that dark place of despair, this is the book for you! There is nothing happy, uplifting, or strengthening about this depressing dystopia set in Sweden where everyone over 50, and childless, is locked up to be human guinea pigs and organ donors until they die (within a few years).

Our hero, Dorrit, turns 50 and has been in an affair with a married man, so she has nobody to vouch for her that she is loved. She had an accidental pregnancy at a young age that she aborted, but no living children, so now she is considered useless and is sent to "the unit". Upon arriving there, she meets up with another childless friend that she knew from school, and she actually finds life in the unit pretty good. They have to go through medical testing, but are treated well aside from that - at first. Of course, as time goes on, the tests get more dangerous, people start dying, and things get ugly. Who would have guessed?

Aside from the fact that everyone's names in this book sound like furniture names from Ikea, the book deals with heavy issues like what constitutes the usefulness of a human life, and should society be expected to carry the burden of a life that can not give anything back. On top of these questions are Dorrit's own thoughts on her abortion, marriage, children, etc, that make the book just full of opinions on today's issues. In other words, it might not only make you sad, but mad as well! Fun!

The last thing about the book is that there is no hopefulness in it at all. The one great thing about reading a book set in an evil, corrupt society is that you know that the hero will somehow overcome and lessons will be learned, things will be changed, people will be freed, evil will be banished, whatever. It doesn't have to be exactly the same, but leaving the reader with a sense of hope and resolution is how we leave a book satisfied. This book did not deliver.
Profile Image for Stephanie Jane.
Author 4 books231 followers
May 25, 2018
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

The Unit is a dystopian novel set almost entirely within the confines of the Second Reserve Bank Unit which is a complete living facility for older people that society at large has deemed dispensible. As readers, we don't know how this legal situation came about or what drove their country to create these facilities, but we can see from the people who end up there how society's priorities lie. The novel is Swedish authored and set in Sweden so it was interesting for me to see how much of The Unit's philosophy meshed with what I know of lifestyle choices in that country.

If it wasn't for what has to be given in return, life in The Unit sounds like bliss. There are excellent leisure facilities, empathetic staff, it never rains and the library can swiftly get any book requested! However, the price is to repeatedly volunteer for potentially dangerous clinical trials and experiments, and to donate increasingly more vital organs to more deserving people on the outside. I was fascinated by how these 'dispensible people' cope with this situation. The criteria by which they are chosen would almost certainly make me one of them in just a few years so to say I was unsettled by this book is a massive understatement!

I was completely convinced by Holmqvist's creation and from thinking about how drug trials are actually carried out in poor African towns and villages, it's not a huge leap of faith to get to Units. I thought the intensity of friendships and relationships was very real and poignant and I was gripped by this story from start to finish. Holmqvist's writing style suits her subject perfectly. A scary prospect!
Profile Image for SC.
109 reviews
October 26, 2009
A very strong four stars, and I'm so pleased! This could not have been paced more salubriously. I also finished Girl With the Dragon Tattoo recently, and I'm just loving these Swedes' plotting and pacing. (Then again, I've always been a sucker for anything remotely Scandinavian.)

I've been a rabid Dollhouse fan since the beginning, so I was already familiar and infatuated with the premise of the "serene spa-like environment*" in which inhumane, insidiously pseudo-consensual slavery takes place. The execution of said premise turned out even better than I expected though, just as the current second season of Dollhouse has made me much, much happier than the first, since FOX has stopped micromanaging our beloved Joss. (Adele Dewitt FTW!)

More Swedish recommendations, please!

*Echo's words.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,735 reviews2,338 followers
August 15, 2018
"Life is capital. A capital that is to be divided fairly among the people in a way that promotes reproduction and growth, welfare and democracy. I am only a steward, taking care of my vital organs." ▫️▫️▫️
THE UNIT, by Ninni Holmqvist, translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy.

In a near future world, childless adults, 50+ years of age, are sent to The Unit, an institutional facility where they live out the remainder of their lives. In this facility, they are subjected to medical and pharmaceutical testing, and the organs in their bodies are harvested to care for the "producers" of society - the people who have children / value. The Unit *appears* to be a luxury spa and resort where people are cared for until their "final donation" (their brain, heart, or lungs or another vital organ). We follow Dorrit, a single woman in her 50s who has devoted her life to writing, and now lives her days in medical experiments and preparing for organ donations.

This is a different perspective dystopia, taking things out of the "teen that topples the system" realm so common in speculative fiction, here focusing on a cast of characters in their 50s and 60s. There are some thought-provoking sections, and the book was a good read.

*Women In Translation month 2018
Profile Image for Aleshanee.
1,450 reviews100 followers
January 4, 2020
So groß bekannt scheint das Buch bei uns nicht zu sein, was mich ehrlich gesagt etwas verwundert. Denn obwohl das Thema einerseits weit hergeholt scheint, hat es andererseits Momente, die einem sehr real und aktuell vorkommen Ein bisschen von der Grundthematik erinnerte es mich an "Vollendet" von Neal Shusterman - während er allerdings die "ungewollten" Jugendlichen als nutzlos und damit Organspender deklariert hat, sind bei Ninni Holmqvist die älteren Generationen das Ziel der Auslese.

Es geht um den Wert eines Menschen und dem damit verbundenen Sinn, den jeder Einzelne seinem Leben gibt.

Die Frage nach dem Sinn des Lebens beschäftigt den Menschen ja schon seit Jahrhunderten, aber in dieser zukünftigen Gesellschaftsform, in der die Protagonistin Dorrit Weber lebt, hat ihn sehr klar formuliert:

"Nur neue Konstellationen werden anerkannt. Menschen, die einen neuen Haushalt gründen und neue Menschen poduzieren ... alles muss sich vorwärtsbewegen." Seite 136

Man muss also etwas einbringen in die Gesellschaft - und zwar vorrangig Kinder, um das Überleben unserer Art zu sichern; oder man muss sich in beruflich besonders hervorbringen, oder zumindest einen Nachweis haben, dass man einen Partner hat, der einen liebt. Man sozusagen benötigt wird, und nicht entbehrlich ist.

Eine gruselige Vorstellung, anhand von "Daten" zu bemessen, ob ein Mensch wichtig ist oder geopfert werden kann. Anders kann man es nicht nennen, denn Frauen ab 50 und Männer ab 60, die von niemandem benötigt werden (Geschwister oder Freunde zählen hier übrigens nicht), kommen in die Einheit. Einen Ort, an dem sie ihre letzten Jahre scheinbar ohne Entbehrungen verbringen können, gleichzeitig aber auch Versuchskaninchen spielen müssen für psychologische und physische Tests und eine Art Ersatzteillager sind, falls ihre Organe für "benötigte Menschen" gebraucht werden.

"Das Leben und das Dasein haben keinen Wert an sich. Wir haben keine Bedeutung, nicht einmal die Benötigten haben eine Bedeutung. Das Einzige, was wirklich wertvoll ist, ist das, was wir produzieren." Seite 116

Die Autorin steigt auch direkt in dem Moment ein, in dem Dorrit zu ihrem 50. Geburtstag abgeholt in eine dieser Einheiten gebracht wird. Es ist kein aufregender, von Spannung getragener Roman, sondern eher leise, schleichend, und dadurch umso beklemmender.
Mit sehr viel Gefühl und dabei kurz und prägnant, weiß sie sehr gut die aufwühlenden Gefühle und Bedürfnisse zu zeigen, auf Missstände zu deuten im Umgang miteinander, aber auch den liebevollen und fürsorglichen Umgang, den jeder von uns so dringend braucht.

Die "Entbehrlichen" sitzen alle in einem Boot und auch wenn jeder mit der Situation anders umgeht, entwickelt sie ein sehr feines Gespür für die anderen, die Verzweiflung, die Ängste, die Einsamkeit, die über sie hereinbrechen. Eine Gefühl der Zusammengehörigkeit entsteht, auch weil die Situation wohl anders gar nicht auszuhalten ist.

Wichtig fand ich hier auch, dass diese Menschen alle schon vorher in der Gesellschaft einen schlechten Stand hatten, als geringwertig angesehen wurden. Keine Familie gegründet? Keinen Erfolg im Beruf? Welchen Nutzen hat man dann für die Gesellschaft, wenn man keinen Beitrag leistet für das Gemeinleben?
Das Stichwort Leistungsgesellschaft hat für mich schon immer einen faden Beigeschmack, denn jeder hat das Recht, sein Leben so zu gestalten, wie er möchte - mit allen Vorteilen und allen Konsequenzen, die sich daraus ergeben. Ein Urteil darüber zu fällen, steht niemandem zu.

Wie sich Dorrits Leben in diesem überwachten Ausgeliefertsein entwickelt hat eine subtile Spannung, der man sich kaum entziehen kann. Wie alle anderen muss sie an allen Forschungen teilnehmen, die äußerste körperliche Belastungen und seelische, ja, Grausamkeiten beinhalten, was teilweise verstörend und erschreckend erzählt wird.

Ein wichtiges Buch, das mit einer sanften Eindringlichkeit erzählt wird und dadurch umso mehr berührt. Den Wert eines Menschen zu messen ist nicht möglich, weil jedes Leben wertvoll ist. Nicht nur "große" Taten zählen, sondern grade die kleinen, liebevollen Gesten und zwischenmenschlichen Momente sind wichtig und lassen sich an keiner Skala werten.

Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,169 reviews6 followers
January 1, 2016
This book reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Both are dystopian concerning a society that condones using a certain class of individuals as the source of organs and other body parts to keep others alive. The author of this book is Swedish and the book is set in Sweden. As I was reading, I kept thinking that I would probably appreciate the book more if I know more about Sweden and its political climate - past and present. Without that, I struggled to understand how the law that those "not needed" or not employed in a critical job would become "dispensable" and taken for use by the state to use as human test subjects and organ donors. In short, if one reached age 50 (women) or age 60 (men) and had no children to care for or an important job - doctor - one was collected and taken to a "unit." At the unit, one had a nice apartment (no windows), free food, free clothes, free e-reader and e-books, free massages, free gym privileges, and just about anything else one might want. But one also had to participate in scientific studies and donate various parts of their bodies until live was not viable.

The main character Dorrit, a rather unsuccessful author with a beloved dog, was not particularly likable. While physically strong for a 50 year old, she was a wimp. Taught by her mother not to become dependent on a man, she avoided commitment, but she really wanted to be dependent and dominated - doesn't make a lot of sense does it? So after years of being the pawn of married men and having no close friends, she comes to the unit and she and a man fall in love and she develops many close friendships.

While the book raises some important issues, it provides no answers (which is good) but seems to lay blame on feminism, at least for the fate of women. I guess feminism is also the reason men are unable to find partners and so is the cause for the fate of the men as well. Perhaps it was my perception that blame was placed on feminism that caused me not to like the book.

Profile Image for Susan.
2,697 reviews594 followers
June 1, 2012
This is a dark and disturbing novel about a future where people who do not produce children are seen as redundant and are used for medical research and organ donation. Dorrit is approaching fifty and has not yet produced a child or married. When we meet her she has been taken to The Unit which, to her surprise, is a place with every facility and where she makes friends. However, the friends she makes are, like her, seen as unproductive and unwanted members of society and are dispensable.

Dorrit is an intelligent and likeable heroine who discovers much while at The Unit and verges between acceptance of her fate and anger at the society who views her life as unimportant. There are plenty of twists in this story and it was an interesting and thought provoking read, which would be ideal for a book group. If you find this book of interest you might also enjoy The Handmaid's Tale or , Never Let Me Go which deal with similar themes.
Profile Image for Sharon.
248 reviews103 followers
April 11, 2017
I think I was drawn to the cover. (Very nice cover.) That and the jacket made me cross my fingers and hope for something reminiscent of Michael Bay's "The Island" (sue me; it's entertaining), Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let me Go," and Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale." And it does end up being difficult not to compare themes in "The Unit" to "Never Let Me Go": passivity, life, death, humanity, worth, acceptance.

As a 38-year old woman who just recently found love, the premise of "The Unit" intrigued me: single, childless 50+ women and 60+ men who are not in "progressive industries" are sent to a "reserve bank" to participate in experiments and eventually donate their organs.

This is an easy read for anyone interested in the premise. But sadly, it just didn't deliver, and failed to haunt me or shock me like Ishiguro did. There was a detachment in both narrations that worked so well in "Never Let Me Go," but here, just made me want to shake protagonist Dorrit.
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