The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

“We’re stretched thin, all of us; we vibrate; we quiver, we’re always on the alert. Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes. Hence the unnatural quiet.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 378 pages.
Read from September 11, 2019 to September 17, 2019.

The much-anticipated sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale is finally here! I couldn’t wait for a library copy for this one so I went ahead and splurged and got the ebook on its release date.

The Testaments follows, not one, but three different female characters that are apart of or connected to the highly moralistic realm of Gilead. This time, however, instead of focusing on the Handmaids, you finally get some insight into the lives of the Aunts and Wives and the general upbringing of girls in Gilead. Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, the story is narrated like a diary, journal, or rather testament from each character with a concluding academic look at them afterwards in which historians are studying these testaments as a piece of ancient history.

The Commanders and Aunts, and those who run Gilead are attempting to reclaim a baby named Nicole, whose mother snuck her out of Gilead to Canada through an organisation called Mayday. A high standing Aunt, who is at first anonymous, divulges all in a forbidden journal as she discusses the horrible trauma of how she was forced to be an Aunt and learning to survive under the new Gilead regime, as well as her desire to overturn it…  Daisy is a teen living in Canada and learns all about the strange and morally uptight people who live in Gilead. However, Daisy’s life changes forever when she attends a protest rally against the Gileads during some rising political tensions between the two countries… A young upper-class girl named Anges lives in Gilead and discusses growing up under the strict eyes of the Gilead regime and the expectations that she would be a wife at barely thirteen years of age… and of course what about Offred from The Handmaid’s TaleThe Testaments is the story of how all these women are connected.

The book clearly places in Gilead in the United States, likely on purpose considering the political atmosphere around women’s rights in the last few years, with Canada being the country that those from Gilead escape to. The writing style is consistent with The Handmaid’s Tale and it feels like you finally get a full picture into the world of Gilead, especially with how it all started and was maintained. I think the only thing I didn’t care for, which is something really petty, was that Daisy expressed love interest in Garth. It felt out of place and almost made me feel like I was reading a YA novel. What was worse is that literally nothing came out of it was dropped later on in the book. Besides that, the story was highly engaging and I especially enjoyed reading the Aunts testament since it was a perspective that wasn’t touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale.

This book is a must-read for those that enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale and even for those who haven’t, as you could easily pick up this book without having read its predecessor, though I wouldn’t recommend it if you truly want the true scope and power of this story.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

4/5 stars.
Re-read on August 25, 2019 to August 28, 2019.
ebook, 322 pages.
Originally read June 2011.
Paperback, 311 pages.

I am unimpressed with my younger self and the impressions I initially had with this book. I must not have had the emotional intelligence or wherewithal to truly grasp the raw and gripping moments in this story or maybe the recent current political atmosphere has opened up my eyes to some of the real themes that are present in this book. I reread this book in the anticipation of it its sequel that was just released this September.

This was my original and very poor review from the first time I read the book back in 2011.

This novel was hauntingly interesting and a scary thought of what our future could potentially hold. I enjoyed the story but I wasn’t overly enthralled. The story is similar to that of a female version of Orwell’s 1984 so I guess Atwood’s story felt like something I was already familiar with. This isn’t entirely Atwood’s fault as this novel was written in the early 1980’s so I can imagine the impact that this book would have had with these kinds of radical and dystopian types of ideas and would have certainly warranted a Governor’s General Award. Overall, I enjoyed the novel but it is not at the top of my dystopian novel list.

Pffft, see? Kids these days, I tell ya. Thank goodness I grew up a little.

Offred is a Handmaid in the morally righteous and strict society of Gilead. She doesn’t want to be one, she was forced to be one and her own daughter and husband are snatched away from her. The declining birth rates have ‘forced’ the hands of religious fanatics to alter society and ‘cleanse’ it to what they believed to be a pure and functional society. Women are stripped of their careers, finances, and worth and forced back into the homes and put within strict roles that the leading men, the Commanders, thought appropriate: Marthas, the caretakers, cleaners and cooks for the homes of Commanders, Wives, upper-class women who have the privilege of being allowed to marry and may or may not have children, Econowives, the poor women who can’t afford to have Marthas, the Aunts, women who have found a “higher calling” (AKA the ones trying to find a way out of getting married) never marry or bear children and tasked with educating and training women in each group, and of course the Handmaids, fertile and often rebellious women who fit into none of the categories and are forced to serve Gilead by being sent to Commander’s homes to bear children for them.

I think that Offred’s story is even more relevant than it was before and that this story will speak to a new generation of women who are still fighting for rights and autonomy over their own bodies.  I’m also thankful that there is a sequel as I had forgotten how much of the ending left you hanging. Not that I would change it but it will be good to see the follow-through and hopefully what eventually happens to Offred and Gilead as the end *spoiler alert* of the story implies that the Gilead society did, mercifully, eventually crumble.

There was something about reading this for a second time that hit me emotionally where it missed this first time. I think it’s a combination of things, for one, I’m at an age where I’m considering having children and am worried about my own fertility, that I am disturbed by some of the backwards movements that have happened a little too close to my home country, and that I’m a little more learned and aware of some of the issues and challenges of being a woman and I’m finally starting to realise how not okay I am with it. On top of that, Atwood’s writing is a pleasure to read as it is concise and highly engaging.

This is a book that should be read in schools and then re-read later on, like I did, to appreciate the full horror of this story. I cannot wait for the sequel and I hope that it continues to push and question societal issues surrounding women as this book has.

American War by Omar El Akkad

What would happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 320 pages.
Read from February 27, 2018 to March 6, 2018.

When I first started reading this novel, the fourth out of the five books for me off the Canada Reads 2018 shortlist, I let out a sigh of exasperation realizing it was yet another dystopian story which, is not generally my favourite genre. The reason being is that most of them are YA and have little literary quality. Granted, this is not true for all books in the genre, you just take a look at some of the stellar stories by Margaret Atwood.  This book while not quite what I would call Atwood quality is still one of the better adult dystopian stories I have read.

Set in the future, the world is in an environmental crisis in which many coastlines and cities have been swallowed up by the rising tides. America is under siege as it’s second civil war takes root. The South is unwilling to give up the fossil fuels that drive their economy and are tired of being pushed around and ignored by the Northern part of the country. The tension between the two sides erupts with violent consequences as this battle is one that will last a lifetime, especially for one family. Martina and Benjamin Chestnut and their three children Simon, Dana and Sarat live in Louisiana. The girls are fraternal twins but could not be more different. They are only six years old when the war begins. While not quite in the South, Martina decides to take her family to a refugee camp called Camp Patience after Benjamin dies and as bombs start to rain down near their home. It was a decision that she would come to regret. The refugee camp is no holiday and no place to raise children but they manage to get by for the next few years as a bloody battle rages on outside the camps barriers. The story follows Sarat, a feisty and brave young girl who ends up being influenced by the Rebels in the South and an influential man with certain resources and connections. Sarat begins learning skills to help her become a pawn in the game of war.

An unspeakable tragedy hits Camp Patience. The event is a turning point in which Sarat’s persona hardens as well as her need for revenge against the people who have done her and her family wrong. Sarat spends her whole life fighting and suffering. It is all she knows. How deep will one betrayal afflict her and how will her choices affect the future outcome of her family as well as the whole country?

When I first started reading this novel I was trying to pinpoint exactly what purpose Sarat’s story is serving. Is it that regardless of circumstances people are allowed to fight for their beliefs? Or is it about suffering or revenge? Then it hit me. Every single war strategy used in this book is one that America has used as tactics in war: drone strikes, refugee camps, terror cells, being provided with weapons by foreign governments, illegal detention facilities, torture etc. This book brings America’s wars home and shows the gritty and not-so-politically correct tactics that are sometimes employed during war times.  This book is meant to open your eyes to the realities of war and show that it is never as black and white as it seems, or how the media portrays it or how your liberal friend feels about it. War is suffering and nobody wins.

The ending of this tragedy only gets more tragic. I wished for nothing more than for Sarat to continue being the same person. But, well, I can’t stay more without spoiling it!  The author does an impeccable job of painting the pages in the blood of war and allowing the reader to feel apart of the plot as you follow the entire Chestnut family.

The emotional depth was a big win for me in this book but I also felt bogged down with a tangle of details, shifting perspectives and time changes. This clunky approach was a big let down as I felt like this story had the potential to be something extraordinary.  I still really enjoyed the unique story and the exceptional characters but the execution was missing that organizational spark.

The author’s career as a journalist sheds some light on how he can write about war so vividly.  He is an award-winning journalist who has travelled the globe and has covered some of the biggest news stories on wars in our recent history.

At this point, as I have now read four out of the five shortlisted 2018 Canada Reads novels and I would say that this novel best meets the criteria of ‘one book to open your eyes”. With jaw-dropping moments of emotion to shocking realities of violence that are taking place in our world right now, you come to see Sarat a real and flawed person. A person that makes terrifying decisions that, within the acts of war, are neither right nor wrong but rather her justification to end her own suffering.