elisava-grace, December 10, 2009 (view all comments by elisava-grace)
"The Handmaid's Tale" is unquestionably an excellent piece of literature, and Margaret Atwood is very effective in drawing the reader into the world of the Republic of Gilead. As the story unfolded, I found myself both drawn to and repulsed by the events. It was a fascinating story, but also disturbing and threatening, especially when the reader understands that the vast majority of the events in the book were based off of actual occurrences in history.
Atwood's novel is the story of a woman who previously had what would widely be considered a "normal" American life. She had a career, a husband, and a daughter. But after the U.S. government was overthrown and replaced by the Republic of Gilead, she lost her family, job, and rights. In the Republic of Gilead, women are no longer allowed to read, and are divided into different positions. The main character becomes a handmaid, and exists solely for the purpose of providing an infertile couple with a child. She is referred to as Offred, or "of Fred," making reference to the man who is supposed to fertilize her. She is also restricted to a specific uniform as a handmaid, a long red dress with red gloves, and a white hat with long flaps that shield her face from strangers. Ultimately, the new government has stripped her of her identity.
Atwood bravely explores the repercussions that such a governmental system would have on this handmaid. She tells the story of Offred's past in brief flashbacks, and also recounts her re-education as a handmaid. Offred has become an unemotional and determined woman who clings to fantasies of her family and desperate grasps of love to survive.
This is a difficult book to read. In particular passages, it is easy to understand why this book could be banned or suppressed. However, it tells a story that ought to be told, both to remember those in history who have had similar experiences and to caution against the future. Furthermore, Atwood does this effectively and well.
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nightgaunt, May 30, 2008 (view all comments by nightgaunt)
After reading the "Handmaid's Tale" I began to research the elements of her compelling book. I have since come to the conclusion that Maragret Atwood was spot on and chilling even when the hope is but a low flicker in a sea of darkness. Wonderful, haunting, interesting and timeless if not timely as the religious right make inroads into our government and military with increasing influence.
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Crystel Marie, July 5, 2007 (view all comments by Crystel Marie)
Being a recently graduated English major, I have read a number of books over the past four years. "The Handmaid's Tale," though, is by far one of the best pieces of literature I came across, and to be honest, is one of the only ones I finished from start to finish without skipping a single page - and that says a lot, considering I would often have twenty or more novels a term to read. I call "The Handmaid's Tale" a "piece of literature" rather than a "novel" or "book" because it possesses the qualities of literature that is hard to find in much of todays modern fiction. Atwood is often thought of as a feminist writer, but she is much more than that, and "The Handmaid's Tale" really shows that. Atwood touches on extreme themes of oppression and democracy without making the reader feel like he's being lectured. In Laymen's terms: READ IT! You won't regret it. I have yet to meet someone who hasn't read it and not loved it. I must say, though, if you're looking for a piece of literature to mindlessly read without much thought, this is not for you. "The Handmaid's Tale" forces the reader to reflect on the politics of the story as well as the politics of today. I personally feel much more enlightened and educated for reading this piece of literature. To be clich?, do yourself a favor and read this!
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Atwood's classic dystopian novel of a terrifying (and terrifyingly plausible) future America has rewarded rereading like no other book; I've probably read it 30 times by now. The world of the narrator, Offred (from "Of Fred" — women no longer have their own names), is chilling, but she is a magnificent survivor and chronicler, and the details of everything from mundane daily life to ritualized sex and violence to her reminiscences of the time before (our contemporary reality, as seen in the '80s) are absolutely realistic. The novel is as relevant today as ever; feminist backlashes continue to wax and wane, but women's rights remain in the spotlight. And despite its scenarios of great despair, The Handmaid's Tale is ultimately a hopeful book — Offred, and others, simply cannot be human without the possibility of hope, and therein lies the strength of the resistance. All of Atwood is worth reading, but this book best exemplifies the cultural and psychological impact that a work of fiction can create.
by Jill Owens
by The Washington Post Book World,
"A novel that brilliantly illuminates some of the darker interconnections between politics and sex....Just as the world of Orwell's 1984 gripped our imaginations, so will the world of Atwood's handmaid!"
by The San Francisco Chronicle,
"The Handmaid's Tale deserves the highest praise."
by Houston Chronicle,
"Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions....An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking....Read it while it's still allowed."
by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times,
"[A] taut thriller, a psychological study, a play on words. It has a sense of humor about itself, as well as an ambivalence toward even its worst villains."
"The most poetically satisfying and intense of all Atwood's novels."
by The Globe and Mail (Toronto),
"The Handmaid's Tale is in the honorable tradition of Brave New World and other warnings of dystopia. It's imaginative, even audacious, and conveys a chilling sense of fear and menace."
"The Handmaid's Tale brings out the very best in Atwood — moral vision, biting humor, and a poet's imagination."
First published in 1985, The Handmaid's Tale is a novel of such power that the reader is unable to forget its images and its forecast. With more than two million copies in print, it is Margaret Atwood's most popular and compelling novel. Set in the near future, it describes life in what once was the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead. Reacting to social unrest, and a sharply declining birthrate, the new regime has reverted to — even gone beyond — the repressive tolerance of the original Puritans.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.