The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (or why this is a must-read)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Handmaid's Tale
Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some.

This review is probably the most of a political statement I will make on this blog. Today. For now. But I can't help thinking how super-relevant this book is in today's America. I can't emphasize how many times I've had Offred and her dystopian world pop into my head ever since I read this book in March. Or how many similarities there were - the way the unrest crept up on the citizens. Or how no one worried about the social impact of the change. But, you know what's funny? This book was written in 1985. Let that sink in a bit.

Offred is a Handmaid of the Republic of Gilead. Handmaids are women assigned to families with the sole responsibility to bear children in an age of declining births, after an environmental crisis affected the birth rate. Moreover, she and other handmaids don't have a name of their own. They are named after the men they belong to. So Offred is really "Of Fred". It was not too long ago however, when things were normal. When she had a happy life with her husband and her daughter. Now, she doesn't know where either of them are. She suspects that her husband has been killed and, on her happier days, she thinks that her daughter has been married off to someone.

The Handmaid's Tale was the scariest book I have ever read. And that's counting every horror or crime fiction I have come across. What made it scary was realizing that the story was very plausible. When the uprising first started, no one questioned it. When the uprising took hold, no one questioned it still. By the time people started reacting and attempting to leave the country, it was too late. They were all brought back and either killed or groomed for their future roles as Wives, Handmaids, or Marthas, if they were women; or Commanders and servants (who can't take wives), if they were men.

I felt badly for Offred. The difference to me, between a book like The Hunger Games (which was also awesome) and something like The Handmaid's Tale is that the latter is set shortly after something bad happened. All the characters in this book had a good memory of how their life used to be and how close they were to escaping. They remembered their loved ones and the not-knowing aspect tortures them to no end. They are living in the post-world, a world where they are plagued by the what-ifs. They are living with the guilt of ruining their children's future, because they were only looking out for themselves, and now that future is bleak. Several decades later, Gilead would be the norm and no one would be questioning what happened.

Sure, the details in the book may sound very fictional right now. But it's funny how the chess pieces that lead to the dystopia are easy to relate to. That to me is what makes this book one that everyone must read. Even though I only read it a few months ago, I know I want to reread it. Soon. And I want to put this book in everyone's hands now. I know many of you have read it already, but if you haven't, now is a good time to start.

As for the prose, Atwood's writing took a little getting used to but it soon got addicting however. Atwood does not write to impress you. She does not try emotional manipulation or any literary devices meant to hook you. She writes it as it is and that was more than enough to keep me turning the pages. That is what I (eventually) loved about her writing, after I got past the first few chapters.

And now I want recommendations! What books would you recommend that we all read in this post-election era? Any genre/category welcome.

This ebook is from my personal library.

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