Format: eBook (Kindle)
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Dystopian, Fiction, Feminism, Science Fiction, Classic
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date of Publication: 17th February, 1986
Rating: 5/5 stars
I am a part of a book club where we read women-centric books every month or books by women authors. The book this month was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I had been wanting to read this book for a long time and was overjoyed by the choice.
“Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.
The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…“
The book reads like a memoir of a Handmaid in the dystopian world of the Republic of Gilead which was earlier the United States of America. The protagonist has no name of her own and is only called Offred after the commander who is in possession of her. When she is moved to the house of another male, her name will change to take on his name. Like Offred notes in the latter half, this is a very effective way of erasing the identity of a woman since no one will know or remember her real name.
The book gives a sense that the events happened suddenly and without warning. The Handmaid is among the first generation of women who are subjected to the new rule. At the beginning of the book, I wondered how it was so easy to manipulate the entire population of a country to accept something as crazy as this new monotheocratic government. As I read more of the book, I realised that this is exactly what happened during Hitler’s governance and what is currently happening in North Korea and some of the Islamic countries. It does not take a century to turn the entire history of a country around. It only takes a person with extreme views and fanatics who follow.
The reading of the book was a very traumatic experience for me because I kept comparing the old life of Offred to my own life. I kept wondering what I would do if such a thing was to happen to me. Would I make the same choices? It was very scary to think that a country that was as focused on individuality as the United States was so easily turned around. What hope do the other more conservative country have?
What was great about the book was how much the author borrowed from the real experiences of citizen escaping from tyranny. The threatening of their loved ones, the physical abuse of those suspected of breaking the law, the absence of freedom of speech, the confiscation of property and identity were scarily accurate. I was moved to tears in a number of places and was paranoid about the news that I was seeing on television for quite a while after I finished this book. This was my first Margaret Atwood book and I now understand why she won so many awards for her writing.
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College. She currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.
Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers’ Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.
TL;DR: A moving tale that makes the reader wonder how easily it could be their own story and keeps them wondering if they would make the same choices
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