The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an amazing book, hard to read but hard to put down. The narrator, Offred (her real name may be June, as semi-confirmed by the author), could be almost any woman in American society, and with the flaming crap show of a presidency we have going on right now and the unholy alliance between the ultra-corporatist Republicans and the gullible, ultra-religious conservative Republicans, the United States turning into Gilead seems more realistic than at any other time in my life.
Edgar Allan Poe's Raven was correct: Nevermore will there be a balm in Gilead. The Christian theocracy is murderous and reduces women to their bodies in a horrifying but realistic way. In the introduction, Atwood explains that everything that happens in the book has been done by a human society in the past - they've just never been synthesized like this.
Although Offred is the most relatable and likeable of protagonists, trapped in a situation in which she is only minimally complicit, and that by necessity, the best part of the book may be the "historical notes" at the end. In the coda, a team of academics who seem to be mainly Canadian First Nations folks in Nunavit are looking back on Gileadean society and analyzing how this division of Caucasian/Western civilization went so badly. (Hint: religious fundamentalism, racism, abuse of power, environmental abuse. Sound like anyone we know?)
I am a white people (as is the author), but I still like the idea that in the future, South Asians and First Nations people will have put white people in our place and will be studying us like we're extinct in the way that white Americans condescendingly refer to indigenous Americans in the present. Turnabout is fair play, as they say.
What happens to Offred is left deliberately ambiguous, but I'm an optimist and I would like to think that she made it to England and successfully gave birth to a healthy child, thanks to Nick helping her get to the Underground Femaleroad. I'd like to think that Nick and Luke are alive, too.
But I think Moira may actually be my favorite character. I haven't watched the TV show yet but I hope Moira is the character Ms. Samira Wiley (formerly of Orange is the New Black) is portraying. (But for some reason I keep picturing her looking like Ilana Glazer.) I respect Moira's defiance and refusal to accept her non-personhood.
Keep reading. Keep resisting. Keep playing Scrabble and knowing the meaning of obscure and difficult words. Knowledge is power. If you understood the messages of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, read this book and remember it.
I borrowed this book from a family member and was not obligated in any way to review it.
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