“The Handmaid’s Tale” has been on my list of books to read for the last one or two years. I probably heard about it when the series based on that book was released. I didn’t know that it’s actually from the 80s. And then some weeks ago the sequel “The Testaments” came out. So I set out to read it now with the plan to read the sequel directly afterwards if this book proved to be good. And yes, it’s good and while writing this review I’m already reading the sequel.
But let’s get back to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Margaret Atwood — the author — tells about a near-future dystopia in which the USA are replaced by a totalitarian regime named Gilead backed by a religion based on parts of the Bible.
Most women are not fit to bear children anymore and many man also lost their ability to father them. The last detail is never talked about though, as it’s always the failure of the woman if no child is born or if it is born with some severe illness or deformation in which case it is called an unbaby.
Women who are believed to be fertile but have somehow disgraced themselves by living in a second marriage or without marriage or because of some other reason not acceptable for the new religious society, are given as handmaids to men of power called commanders. A commander then gets several chances to impregnate his handmaid in a bizarre ritual at which his wife and the rest of the household is present. Once those chances are used up or once the handmaid actually bears a child, she is given to another commander and it all starts anew for her.
The book is written from the perspective of one such handmaid. The time is not long after the instantiation of Gilead. She’s one from the first generation and remembers her former life. The tale partly tells her current life with all those strange rituals. And as would be expected there is some underground resistance and people of power who break their own rules. The other part of the tale consists of flashbacks describing how Gilead was introduced and how that started to affect the life of the narrator until she decided too late to leave the country with her husband and daughter.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a gripping and very well written story. I especially liked the new idioms the author came up with — “Praise be”, “May the Lord open” and so on. They bestow a great deal of authenticity on that religious regime.