Thursday, 5 November 2020

Boye, Karin "Kallocain"

Boye, Karin "Kallocain" (Swedish: Kallocain) - 1940

I started reading this book and then had to go back and check when it was written. Yes, it was before "Nineteen Eighty-Four", so George Orwell must have received some of his ideas from Karin Boye.

This was another book our international online book club read. I had never heard of this Swedish author even though she seems to be quite well known for her dystopian literature. Probably not that much outside of Sweden which is a shame. So, I am glad one of our Scandinavian members recommended it.

The book is well-written, the plot runs smoothly and even with an opening paragraph that tells us more or less how the story will end, it is quite gripping to guess how the end will come.

I can never understand highly idealistic people who want to change the world with something they have no clue about. The protagonist of this novel, Leo Kall, is convinced that every person belongs to the state and we are only there to serve the state, are not allowed to have any private wishes or even thoughts. How can that be? How can someone blindly follow a leader like a lamb to the slaughter? If we knew that, we'd have fewer problems in this world.

There is a German song called "Die Gedanken sind frei" (The Thoughts Are Free). I always liked that song because it showed that no matter how much can be controlled, nobody can guess and therefore control my thoughts unless I share them. Not in this story, though. A very thought-provoking idea. What if people would know what we think. I'm pretty sure this world would be a worse place because not everybody likes the truth.
There is an article about the song on Wikipedia with a translation.

This is a great book that shows where our fear can lead us, how we can deal with ideas that want to influence our thinking, how we can try to escape the hatred all around us. I wish more people would read this kind of books. It's also interesting to see, like in "Nineteen-Eight Four" how everyone thinks, their state is the only good one and the others are bad and the others think just the same.

A highly impressive book.

Some comments by other book club members:
  • This was a great discussion book, both about the story itself and all its many sides, but also to mirror it to the real world at the same time and the author's suicide a year after publishing it.
  • Author's suicidal ideas are clearly showing up in this book. Heavy use of splitting and fantasizing about killing or imprisoning the bad side of the split.
  • Our library was not able to get the book for me so I reluctantly read it online. I like to cozy up with a book and empathize with the characters but that didn't happen for me with Kallocain. The book was deliciously creepy as were the characters so I enjoyed it as a chilling warmup to Hallowe'en.

And here is a great quote that sounds so true especially at the moment:
"Here I am, then. As it must be. A question of time. If truth be told. Can you hear the truth? Not everyone is true enough to hear the truth, that is the sad thing."

This was our book club read in October 2020.

From the back cover: 

"A pioneering work of dystopian fiction from one of Sweden's most acclaimed writers

Written midway between
Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the terrible events of the Second World War were unfolding, Kallocain depicts a totalitarian 'World State' which seeks to crush the individual entirely. In this desolate, paranoid landscape of 'police eyes' and 'police ears', the obedient citizen and middle-ranking scientist Leo Kall discovers a drug that will force anyone who takes it to tell the truth. But can private thought really be obliterated? Karin Boye's chilling novel of creeping alienation shows the dangers of acquiescence and the power of resistance, no matter how futile."


  1. Karin Boye is mostly known in Sweden for her poetry, I think. I have not read anything by her. However, I just read a orientation of literature which was written in the 70s and used as a study literature in our Gymnasium (16-18 years old students). Always wanting to have some kind of structure in my reading, I am thinking of going through the important authors they mention there. Karin Boye is of course one of those.
    The first thing I saw though of your post was the cover. Last week I visited an exhibition at the Modern museum here in Malmö with works by Hilda af Klint. This is one of her paintings. Both me and my friend were impressed by her paintings, covering different themes. She was very interested in the Natural sciences and was a many-talented woman. How strange to see one of them as a book cover.

    1. I thought it was a fascinating cover. If I ever make it to Malmö, you have to take me there. ;-)

      Anyway, when I ordered this book, they sent it to me in Swedish by mistake. They resend the correct one and told me to keep the Swedish copy. I thought I might one day read it in Swedish but I doubt that my Swedish will ever get good enough to read an entire book, even if I've read it before. So, if you like, I can send it to you.

      In any case, thanks for your visit and your very informative comment. Have a good weekend.

    2. Hello, I will be happy to take it. I will contact you on email for more details.

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4. Great. Thank you. I'll send you an e-mail later and will remove your post with your e-mail address.

  2. I love when I read a book and think of how it must have influenced authors who came later!

    1. So do I. This was quite obvious and I started wondering who came first. Well, it was our dear Swedish lady, and it's nice to hear that she is very popular in her country. One of those great minds that stay with us forever, obviously.

      Thanks, as always, for your faithful friendship.