Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

4.5/5 Stars.

How fitting that I waited until a time when the content of this book feels especially prescient and urgent to finally read it. It’s a scary day indeed when our reality begins to mirror our dystopian fiction.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a totalitarian theocracy where men rule everything. In this new version of America, Offred, the story’s protagonist, is a slave with one purpose and one purpose alone: she must bear children for the Commanders. Throughout the novel, which Offred narrates in first-person, we gradually learn about her own personal past and some of the circumstances that led to this new society.

Okay, so things aren’t that bad for us quite yet, you say. Fair enough. But the themes remain eerily timely.

– Misguided Christians twisting the words of their savior and using their religion as a guise for hatred and control? Check.
– Powerful men imposing on women’s bodily autonomy and agency? Check.
– The ones at the top benefiting while everyone else suffers? Check.
– A totalitarian government replacing American democracy? Well, hey, we’re one week away from Trump taking office, so let’s put an old checkmark in this column, too.

Atwood’s prose, as always, is impeccable. She writes with urgency, purpose, and humanity—and delivers an ending more brilliant and deliberate than I ever could have imagined. (Seriously…THAT ENDING.)

As we prepare to inaugurate a dangerous demagogue to lead the most powerful country in the world, we must be ready to resist him every step away. We must fight for the rights and the agency of all people—especially those who he and his administration have put at risk. As we do this, we can all bear in mind Atwood’s words, which repeat throughout The Handmaid’s Tale in their Latin form, to fuel our resistance:

“NOLITE TE BASTARDES CARBORUNDORUM.”

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