Monday, April 6, 2015

The Handmaid's Tale

Today's Book Recommendation is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Offred is a handmaid. She lives in the Republic of Gilead. A place where signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. Once a day she may leave the house of the Commander, the man whom she lives with, to go to the market for food on a list given to her by the Commander's wife. Once a month the Commander and her lie together and she must hope that he makes her pregnant. For Offred and the other Handmaids are only valuable so long as their ovaries are viable.

But Offred remembers a time before. A time when she had a husband, Luke, who loved her. When she made love with him not for the sake of a declining population. When she had a daughter that she loved and played with. When she had money of her own. When she had a job. When she had access to knowledge.

This was my first Margaret Atwood novel. I have gone on to read several others but this is one of my two favorites thus far. At once we are given a look at a bleak and declining future. One that doesn't allow women the pursuit of knowledge or to have choices of their own. Even the Commander's wife has restrictions on her life. But Offred seems to face all of this with a quiet courage. A courage that seems born of her ability to remember the past.

Here is a world with a declining population that must also be controlled at the same time. A world where they felt that the threat of knowledge would be the undoing of life as we know it. Yet, Offred finds small moments of resistance. Moments that lie in the memories of her husband and daughter.

There is so much that happens in the novel from the Commander revealing that he has access to forbidden contraband like old Vogue magazines, that another handmaid has become part of a resistance trying to over throw the Gilead government, to secret night clubs where Offred's Commander and his fellows mingle with prostitutes, and an affair with a man that isn't the commander or her husband.

Told in Offred's own words the novel slips between the present and the flashbacks of the world before Gilead. No one can say that Atwood isn't a prolific writer. She writes about our world in a way that it is unrecognizable but also seems to be something that we could be headed for if we made the wrong choices. This novel is also a good jumping off point if you have never read Atwood before.

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