Author: Margaret Atwood
Original title: The Handmaid's Tale
Edition Language: English
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction
Format: Audio book
Read by: Claire Danes
In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right ideals have been carried to extremes. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred, a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.
First of all, I am so happy I have read this book. Though happiness is not the feeling you get while reading it. I had to put it away a couple of times just to precede the ideas. The world, Margaret Atwood describes quite plausibly, is so depressive and hopeless. As a reader, you get to know step by step the social structure and norms, behavior patents and atmosphere in the society. The author skillfully builds up the world, which is split into castes where everyone has its role and fail to fulfill it is subject to inevitable punishment; the community, where notions as freedom, education, technology and science are banned.
Anyway, I find too many gaps in this society structure and how the Republic of Gilead was actually formed. It is difficult to believe that a small group of extremists were able to overtake the regime without any struggle. It was mentioned in the book that there were protests, which were suppressed by force and fire, but the next logical step is armed standoff, guerilla war, civil war as the last resort, but quiet acceptance of despicable degradation of all values and freedoms... quite strange and improbable. But anyway, it is not about the society structure or oppression of women, who are not allowed to read, write, work, possess anything, choose anything or have an opinion. This is a story of a broken woman, whose life was shattered and who was stripped off of anything she had ever had: firstly, of her civil rights: work, money, rights to be an owner, right to be an equal citizen to a man; secondly, of her family: mother, husband and a child; thirdly, of her freedom: she became the hostage of a system - either death or submission; fourthly, of her personality: she is not herself anymore - a potential incubator for somebody’s children, her memories are a mess, she does not pronounce her real name for ages, she is afraid even think in somebody's presence, only alone, in the darkness of her unlocked room.
Frankly speaking, the picture of Offred is so frightening that is so difficult to find its connection to reality. I can hardly imagine to what level of desperation a person should be driven to cherish like the ultimate treasure the printed page from a magazine; being driven to the state of hysterics by a touch of a man, just because her body has not been touched by anyone apart from the reproduction purposes; to find the ultimate freedom and pleasure just being dressed in anything feminine, even prostitute’s cloths and being treated as one; that having a match is an ultimate rebellion and death penalty matter. These points are extremely dreadful and difficult to proceed. The tragedy of a life and personality, where you cannot even choose to take your own life if you'd want to.
I will not elaborate on the character's actions or choices as it will be spoiler-full, as the most important part of the book is Offred's reflection and self-analysis. The last part of the book is quite interesting and ambivalent. It is actually the analysis of Offred's Tale as historical document on a future conference dedicated to the Republic of Gilead. I heard so many bloggers complain about this part, that it completely spoiled the impression of the book, that it was not necessary and pointless. I, however, find this chapter really interesting addition to the book. It shows that we are only numbers: faceless and lifeless figures of the past from the future perspective. Even having at hand such a bloodcurdling record of somebody's broken life "the future us" will only regard the historical probability and connection to known figures in the history. And this is actually such a true vision of history events: passions fade; the sufferings and troubles are not taken into consideration – only bare facts and numbers. This is the way we will be viewed in the future if we are valuable enough to be viewed at all.