Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
ISBN: 0770428207
Publisher: Seal Books
Genre: Fiction/388 pages

The Handmaid’s Tale is my first book by Atwood. It kept lingering in my mind long time after I finished reading it. It follows in the footsteps of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four creating a cold fear in the heart by imagining it to be true.

As the title conveys, it is a story of a handmaid, Offred in an imaginary place called Gilead, which was previously known as the USA. Every month on a day called the ceremony, she has to lie on her back in the bed of commander and his wife and pray for him to make her pregnant. In that bed, all three lay together, the wife holding her hands and commander doing the needful. She keeps staring at the roof while the ritual is being performed. Handmaids are valued only because of what they can provide via their wombs.

She is allowed a walk once a day to the market along with another handmaid in the neighbourhood. She keeps thinking of her husband, Luke, her daughter, her best friend, Moira and her mother. She has nothing to record her thoughts as reading and writing is forbidden for females. She keeps all those in her mind wishing to write those down some day. Does she escape? Only time will tell.

The male characters have no surnames, a few are guardians, or drivers or some such like for the commanders. Woman are either the Wives, Marthas, the working class, Handmaids—those who are there to produce babies. Others who are not useful in anyway end up in colonies or killed. The colonies shown here are like those concentration camps.

Offred flits from thoughts to thoughts. Despite her plight, we glimpse a rebellion streak in her. The story moves forward with irony, wit, sadness, and comical relief too. Contemplating it is too horrifying. Imagining a time when there are no children and only surrogate mothers in the form of handmaids can help bearing them.

A very chilling account and it can happen too if we are not careful. A must read.