It begins at a school. A private one from the sound of it, and yet odd somehow, as if these students were part of some strange educational experiment. These children have no possessions to speak of, or rather, they have possessions which appear to be recycled items, or ones made by other students. The story is told from the point of view of a former student, and as it unfolds, you recognize with her how odd it all was, that it gave other people’s used junk, and children’s art a huge importance in the lives of these students. You also begin to wonder how this could be. Where are their parents? Why, when they must spend holidays at home, are they forced to leave the inevitable gifts behind? Why must they even buy their clothes at school sales with fake money given them by the people who run the school, the “guardians?”
But there are no parents, no homes, no holidays. These children live in their school. They’ve been there since they were very small, and when they reach adulthood, they leave. When they leave, there’s a future waiting for them. An early future is to become a Carer, or caregiver. But not to the sick, the elderly or infirm, but to Donors. And while we don’t know what these donors are exactly, we do know that this is the other waiting future for these students.
It’s not hard to figure out what Donors do. They donate parts of themselves to people who need transplants. Though it’s never actually spelled out, things which are donated are probably kidneys, lungs, parts of the liver, eyes, skin, bone marrow… whatever’s needed. These are children who have been cloned as body part farms. And horrible as that concept is, what seems even worse is that their life at their school has actually given them a taste of something outside the narrow framework of what they have been designed to do. They’re not just unconscious bodies in vats, they’re living, breathing people who get angry and feel sorrow, who fall in love and who create. They’re people, and yet they go to their fates with the conviction that this is what they must do. They listen eagerly to rumors and stories of how there are “deferrments” given, but none of them ever seems to consider that there is any choice but to comply with the order to show up at the hospital and give up parts of their own bodies to total strangers. Carers are the caregivers to Donors after a donation, and Donors do not die, they “complete.” They aren’t even given the dignity of death. Indeed, there are other, less hopeful rumors that after a certain number of donations, including ones which will inevitably kill a living person, what’s left is kept operational until all the parts are used up by what would be equivalent to knackers but for human leftovers.
It’s a brutal book written so beautifully that you simply can’t grasp the horror of their lives, their compliance, and the kind of people who would ask such a thing. As one character — a former guardian — says to two of the students who have sought her out to try to discover the truth of the deferrments: People would hate the idea on the face of it, but at the same time their primary concern is that their children survive, their parents, their husbands and wives. Who wouldn’t choose a loved one over what you’ve been taught to think of as a spare part farm, a thing devoid of a soul, of feelings, even of real consciousness? But this isn’t about the lies, it’s about the people who get chewed up by them, and their short, restricted lives which nevertheless manage to offer scope for beauty and affection and creation. This is the real heart the tragedy.
This is one I wouldn’t recommend to the faint of heart. It’s by Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote “The Remains of the Day” another perfectly brutal book. He seems a master of the deep, quiet sadness. I’m not sure how much more of his work I can bear.