Kallocain by Karin Boye
The book is set in a future, dystopian, totalitarian world state, after a World War. The government surveillance, with eyes and ears, reaches everywhere. Even the maids are bound to report every week about the family at which they work. The main protagonist, Leo Kall, is a dutiful citizen, accepting the rules of the society. He even invents a truth serum, Kallocain, to increase the government's control over the people, making the world state the owner of not only the peoples' identities, but also their souls, because the truth serum reveals their inner, most intimate emotions.
Karin Boye wrote the book during the second World War, just months before committing suicide. The oppression and government abuse are choking and frightening, as well as believable. Since there was a fear among the Swedish people of a German invasion, the theme of the book has been connected to the Third Reich. But, having been a socialist, Boye, after visiting the Soviet union, had began to crumble in her political conviction, especially when it came to the restricted individual freedom of the people. As much as the world state resembles a nazi society, it also resembles a communist era. The people live in small apartments, all identical, and they call each other "fellow soldier", not so unlike the Soviet's ”kamrat” - comrade. There are no economic class divisions, and there is a kind of human equality, but only in the indiscriminating way that noone has a value. A human life is worth nothing more than being a cog in the machine. Individualism is strictly forbidden and seen as a crime and threat to the nation, as the biggest purpose is to serve the world state. Kall is a scientist and contributes to the state through his Kallocain experiments on people from a voluntary service where they sacrificing themselves for ”the greater good”, a unit one can enter but never leave.
Since individualism is forbidden and private emotions are viewed as selfish, dangerous thoughts, the society is built upon mistrust and suspicion - a foundation necessary for the existence of the world state. For every private gathering, witnesses are needed to be able to prove one's innocence if faced with an accusation. There is no term as ”innocent until proven guilty”.
There is a biblical theme in the book. The mysterious myth about the hero Reor that didn't care about witnesses and protection, but simply trusted his fellow citizens, and thereby reached a freedom of mind, something he had to pay for. Parallels can be drawn to Jesus, and his role of sacrifice. The people believing in this myth and trustful way of behavior, were seen as strange and dangerous. Like a religion, there were no certificate to be a member, no head of the organization, not even an organization. Not being able to control such a people, the ruthless state had to defend itself.
When no one can be trusted, the only way to feel safe is power, but power is only an illusion, since it doesn't take away the small voice inside one's soul. Kall received the kind of power he thought he needed, through his invention. It's interesting how far a person is prepared to go to defend his structured, safety-imagined every-day life. The clear-eyed, openminded character Rissen served as Kall's suppressed conscience, which explains Kall's split feelings towards him, mostly fear and loathing due to the dangerous risk of rebellious thoughts in his mind, which could jeopardize his safety, especially with Kallocain in production.
Kallocain is a unique Swedish novel, about ten years ahead of George Orwell's "1984" and Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451". More than seventy years old, it's still of importance, considering the present discussions of the Swedish FRA-surveillance, and even on an international scale, considering Wikileaks and the information revealed by Julian Assange. Furthermore, it shows how easy people, and eventually a whole society, can be controlled by fear and mistrust. It also awakes the important prospect that a society consists of people, like an organism consists of cells. Every cell is needed, and every man can make a difference. He has to decide for himself who he wants to be, and dare to fight for it.