Archive for July 26, 2009

Just like The Handmaid’s Tale?

The Handmaid’s Tale  by Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite books — and it’s one of my favorite books to teach.  That’s why I picked up The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.  Many literary critics compare the two books, and after finishing The Unit  this morning, I can see why.

Set in a dystopian future,  The Unit  is about a time when “women over the age of 50 and men over 60 who are are also single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries” are sent to Second Reserve Bank Unit for “biological material” (quotes are taken from the bookflap).  Here, these citizens are given comfortable living quarters, their own personal medical staff, and all the luxuries anyone could want — but at a terrible price.  They are expected to contribute themselves to both psychological and physical tests, often “donating” parts of their body (a piece of liver here, a kidney there) to those in need.  These people live out their final days until their final “donation” — that is, until they are forced to give up their heart or their brain. 

In this book, the main character is named Dorrit, a writer who resigns herself to this fate.  (Just for the record, almost everyone in The Unit is an artist of some sort — writing, pottery, photography.  In this time period, artists are not considered a valuable part of society — they do not provide valuable contributions).  In The Unit, Dorrit falls in love and then becomes pregnant.  I won’t say anymore about what happens to the fate of Dorrit in case you want to pick up this book (which you should…)

I found this book to be the most chilling read I have had in a long time.  Perhaps it’s because of the plot’s treatment towards the human body, or maybe it’s because of the treatment of artists.  Or maybe because I’m still trying to figure out if the heroine’s actions at the end of the book are noble or not.  Whatever the reason, it’s a book that is going to stay with me for a long time.