Likely in the sci-fi genre, this book is about a future dystopian society in which people are leaving regular society for a more restricted one. The new placement may have many benefits for one’s comfort and general well being but it has a price. And the ultimate price is your heart.
Marlaine Delargy (Translation)
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 submit 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.
The original story has been translated from Swedish into a polished and very readable English novel. Whether or not the translation does justice to the original, I have no way of knowing. However, I found the translation to be very readable.
The basis of the story is that at some future time, our society shifts into being a dystopian one, in the eyes of a person very accepting of the society in which he currently lives. Living in Canada in 2017 is great; freedoms, equality, reasonable protection for the majority of the citizenry. Our society may not be perfect, but it is far better than many others, even others which we would label as comparable democracies. However, on closer examination, criticizing aspects of Canadian society might be akin to nitpicking. For the most part, life in Canada is very good.
Wearing these Canadian society glasses, the setting of this novel seems less than acceptable. The people who live in the Unit’s society, are prisoners, albeit, prisoners living in a gilded cage. Each resident is there for a purpose: organ donation until the final organ has been removed, the heart. Until then, the only prerequisite for each resident is that they abide by the rules, submit to whatever medical tests, experiments and procedures prescribed to them. However, there is one rule, applicable to every resident, which makes them prisoners. No one can leave the Unit, re-entering the old world.
Reading dystopia was very discomforting. Empathizing with the residents whose story is being told, one cannot help but feel this society is wrong. No matter what logic, what rationale, what reasoning one applies, something is wrong with the idea of imprisoning people, let alone imprisoning them so that at some point their organs can be harvested for other people. I cannot accept this concept no matter how it is presented or how anyone might try to justify it. The loss of free choice by an individual is something which I value tremendously in a free society such as Canada’s. Hence, the premise of the story is very discomforting.
Given the aforementioned, the acceptability of the Unit’s society is beyond being plausible, maybe.
Who knows where society will be in the future. The world changes incredibly regularly. The leaders of the world are becoming increasingly implausible. The obvious American leadership is a prime example, but there are numerous others such as the leadership of Turkey, the Philippines, North Korea. If these kinds of leaders can attain power, who’s to say that a society such as that in which the Unit is set is too far fetched.
How desperate will society become, how far will it go, no one can predict it given how the world is changing at this moment.
Sympathy or empathy
As one reads this story, one cannot avoid being drawn into it. The setting, the described world is unique and attracting. Attracting not in the sense that has appeal, but in the sense that there is a suspense, a developing intrigue about what is going to happen, of impending calamity, likely chaos and confusion. A society like this cannot continue indefinitely. The kernels of dissatisfaction seeded intermittently cannot help but germinate into sprouts of revolution and anti-social behaviour, at least anti-this society.
Very early in the story, one begins to feel for its protagonists. Their needs all taken care of in every way, accommodation, nourishment, exercise facilities, even socialization needs. But somehow it all feels stilted, artificial, fake. Residents are being corralled, confined, manipulated and managed. They have restricted freedoms, all choices non-serious, generic and apersonal, what to eat, where to go for a walk, what exercise to do.
Suspense is always at hand as one reads. What is going to happen next? Who is going to have what medical procedure? Who is going to be designated as the final donor? A reader is drawn into the story more and more by these incrementally developed steps of suspense.
Eventually, the chief character of the story, Dorrit Weger, veers from the path as planned and expected by the authorities of the society. She falls in love. Even more upsetting for the authorities, she becomes pregnant.
The story becomes increasingly upsetting from now on with Dorrit expecting and her losing loved ones taken for their final donation. A reader will undoubtedly find this to be a turning point in the story, a point where one would rebel at what this society forces on its residents.
Intriguing and magnetic
The book is intriguing, to say the least. Can this kind of society develop from where we are today? Maybe. However, given the society in which we live, this dystopian one becomes progressively unacceptable, inevitably developing an urge to fight, to rebel and to revolt and what is being forced upon people.
In essence, the book pulls the reader in, soon transforming them making them into souls of social discontent very likely ready to overthrow this dystopia. The book will satisfy those who enjoy the dystopic worlds of 1984, Hunger Games and such. Casual entertainment it is not.