The Unit

the unit, childless

I haven’t read The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist yet, but this synopsis got me very interested in making time for it.

Who is dispensable?” That’s the chilling 1984-esque question that Holmqvist poses in her near-future novel. Childless women aged 50 (and men aged 60) must leave their homes and enter “the unit,” where they will live out their days participating in government experiments and donating their organs to younger, more “productive” members of society. When Dorrit arrives at the unit, she is ready to accept her fate, but when she unexpectedly finds companionship in another “dispensable,” she discovers a reason to live. Indie bookstore Orinda Books says, “A taut, creepy, yet thought-provoking page-turner, The Unit is a meditation on the consequences of complacency, the value of human life, and what we’re prepared to give up for security and comfort.

Source of the text: Literature at every latitude


Iris Murdoch

If my memory doesn’t fail me, about seven years ago, while still living in Sweden, I watched Iris. A beautiful movie in which Judi Dench and Kate Winslet share the heavy-loaded mission of acting Iris Murdoch extraordinary and sublime life in two phases. Ninety-one minutes was all it took me to fall in love with Iris.

A couple of years later, I found a job and moved to Ireland, her home country. I remember how excited I was at the prospect of being in places where she had been, of seeing what she had seen; I knew I would buy every book, every diary she has written for the possibility of scanning her brain through her own words, memories and twisted lies. I knew I’d read her works chronologically, as a timeline, and backward, as a palindrome.

To my complete surprise, for three years, whenever I entered a bookshop and asked for Iris Murdoch books, I’d get a shrug, or an “I’m not sure we have them”, or a “Check the women’s books section”. I assumed she would have her books printed in gold at the front of every Irish bookshop or library, but no, Joyce and Yeats were all they seem to care about.

Then today, in my last week living in Irish soil, by taking a new path to town, I came across a rare book shop I had never seen before. There I went, opening the door, and gazing at dozens of old and colorful book covers. The woman inside asked if she could help. I said “Yes”, she asked me if I was looking for something, I said: “Do you have anything by Iris Murdoch?“. She went: “Iris Mur… Yes, I have. Only one, though. But it is a signed copy!” My heart skipped a bit.

  • How much?
  • Err, let me see. 95 euros.

I tried not to act as surprised as I was. Then I rapidly converted the value into my home country currency: 95 EUR is something like 500 BRL, which is roughly 50% of a minimum wage in Brazil. Damn. 

After living abroad for almost ten years, I still convert everything into Brazilian Reais. It is as if, no matter where I go, “my currency” continues to be the base for financial decision making, which, of course, makes no sense whatsoever considering the very different economic contexts of both countries and the fact that now I’m paid in Euros, but still, the mind goes where it goes.

  • I’ll take it.
  • Do you want a bag?
  • Yes, please. 

Of course I wanted a bag. A bag to put and protect the most expensive stack of paper I ever bought in my life from the constant drops of rain coming from the skies above in Dublin. “But it is a signed one.” I repeated the woman’s line in my head. Not that I needed convincing, I didn’t. I knew the value of it, to me – the chance to touch pages that Iris had touched, to have a copy of the first edition of one of her books, a book made and bought in Ireland, where she was born and lived.

Who knows, maybe there is an Irish woman signing books as Iris and making a fortune thanks to fools like me. Perhaps the fraudulent woman is not even Irish. Who knows? 

Who cares? I don’t. I knew what having the book would do to me. This is the stuff dreams are made of. The fuel to believers, to faith, to hope. All that I’ve been looking for and that I need to start and finish my own books in this life.

Back home I went, feeling like happiness personified, carrying a pulsing body that is starving for more stories like hers and for more time to read all the stuff I buy, however much it costs. By the time I reached my doorsteps, I had this post written in my head, from the very first word to the last dot.