Get ready for a delicious book worthy of a Main Course read!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is an alternative reality set in Cambridge Massachusetts in the near future. Three things have happened: The population is on a steep decline due to Nuclear Power Plants, pollution, and disease. The moral compass of many seems to be cracked, and the military just gunned down the president and the members of Congress. A new society, the Republic of Gilead, emerges to restore values and the population under the guidance and guns of a theological military.
Offred is a handmaiden captured upon trying to leave the country with her husband and child. They are separated, and she is sent to the Reeducation Center a place of brainwashing and forced break down of individualism. Names are taken away, replaced by ones meaning belonging to her Commander. The handmaid’s only purpose for being is to provide a child to deserving but infertile upper-class couples.
Once a month Offred, as in Of Fred, along with her master, Commander Fred, and his wife Serena Joy, participate in a conception ritual where the Commander reads to the females (a special treat) from the Bible and then drops his drawers. This event is meant to be sterile and impersonal resulting in a pregnancy and nothing else.
Handmaids aren’t given much but are allowed a trip to the grocery store once a day provided that another Handmaid accompanies them. The tour includes walking to the once Harvard campus, turned detention center for the secret police aka The Eye, and seeing the result of executions. Hangings as well as threats of being sent to the colonies, as part of a Hazmat crew, are constant reminders that rebellion means death. But it can’t deter something that’s underground, such as Mayday rebels.
So what’s a girl to do? Keep her bonneted head down, keep her fingers (but not legs) crossed for procreation, and hope to get word on what happened to her child until she can escape, of course!
Atwood’s 311 paged novel is breathtaking and terrifying; breathtaking because of her beautifully contemplative writing and terrifying in that it is so conceivable—remember the Nazi’s Holocaust?
I enjoyed this book, greatly. I was captivated by this world Atwood so clearly describes. At the very end, however, the book goes sideways. The reader is transported further into the future, to the year 2195, and a Professor that is giving a lecture on a recent find from the fallen Gilead society. The symposium is presented in Bangor Maine after a hurt locker hidden in the wall of a house being torn down is discovered. Inside it is cassette tapes and this, The Handmaid’s Tale. The epilog of this book is striking in that it feels intrusive and stark compared to the rest of the story—which of course is the point. Give it a read; you’re bound to be intrigued!