Ninni Holmqvist’s 2009 book “The Unit,” newly reissued, imagines a world in which people who haven’t procreated are forced to make a different—ultimate—contribution to society.
“It was more comfortable than I could have imagined,” is how The Unit begins, with Dorrit, a single, impoverished 50-year-old woman picked up from her home in a metallic red SUV and transported to a luxury facility constructed by the government for people just like her. Her new, two-room apartment is bright and spacious, “tastefully decorated,” inside a complex that includes a theater, art studios, a cinema, a library, and gourmet restaurants. For the first time, Dorrit is surrounded by likeminded people and included rather than ostracized. At the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material, she’s one among a community of people who couldn’t—or didn’t want to—have children.
The cost is that, for the remaining four or five years of her life, Dorrit will be subjected to medical testing and will donate her organs one by one until her final, fatal donation. The Unit’s author, the Swedish writer Ninni Holmqvist, has imagined a society fixated on capital, but in human form. Those who have children or who work in fields like teaching and healthcare are seen as enabling growth; the childless and creative types like Dorrit, a writer, are deemed “dispensable,” removed, and forced to make their own biological contributions. The unit itself is a fantasy of government welfare for aging citizens (it offers delicious meals, culture, and companionship), but with a particularly sharp twist.