Book Review – Kallocain


Title: Kallocain

Author: Karin Boye

ISBN: 9789174290875

Publisher: 2010 (first published 1940), Bonnier Pocket

Three Word Description: Short, Unique, Accurate





(I read the book in its original language, Swedish, but there is an english translation of it.)

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present the most realistic dystopian novel I’ve ever read (so far). Instead of following a person critical to the regime or a teen leading a revolution, the story is told through the perspective of an overall citizen. The protagonist, Leo Kall, may be the villain in any other dystopian novel I’ve read, but in the end he is just a product of the society he lives in.

 This is a novel of the future, profoundly sinister in its vision of a drab terror. Ironic and detached, the author shows us the totalitarian World-state through the eyes of a product of that state, scientist Leo Kall. Kall has invented a drug, kallocain, which denies the privacy of thought and is the final step towards the transmutation of the individual human being into a “happy, healthy cell in the state organism.” For, says Leo, “from thoughts and feelings, words and actions are born. How then could these thoughts and feelings belong to the individual? Doesn’t the whole fellow-soldier belong to the state? To whom should his thoughts and feelings belong then, if not to the state?” “

Leo Kall is, like I mentioned, not the typical ‘hero’ of a dystopian novel. From the beginning he excuses everything that his totalitarian state does, actually believing it’s for everyone’s best. He even invents a drug that reveals people’s deepest thoughts, thinking that now no ‘dangerous’ people can walk among them. The fact that Leo sincerely believes this dystopia to be a utopia gives an interesting perspective for the reader. But what makes it even more interesting is Leo’s own hidden feelings and thoughts that he tries to deny.

Leo’s relationships play an important role in the novel as they demonstrate human’s ability to affect each other. In a world where social behavior is seen as asocial, the learned fear of closeness still can’t remove what we all deeply desire. Through Leo, Moye wrote such a believable torn man that even though I had a hard time sympathizing with him in the beginning, my heart reached out to him by the end.

And that I would say is the book’s little weakness, though it is deliberate. Leo is not written to be sympathetic in the sense that we are meant to see through his eyes from the beginning. So first it is a bit hard to get into it, but to understand the book’s purpose you must understand that the book is not written to your perspective. It challenges the reader to see through the perspective of someone we would usually claim to be completely opposite to us in the typical dystopia.

But the book is short (193 pages) so it’s a quick read for anyone! Even if you think that you’re quite done with dystopian thanks to its hype, I still incline you to try this book. It will give you a different view on the genre, and I honestly believe it gives a much more righteous perspective.



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