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.

Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature by Margaret Atwood

A criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature, and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 287 pages.
Read from May 9, 2017 to June 4, 2017.

“Literature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind. Our literature is one such map, if we can learn to read it as our literature, as the product of who and where we have been. We need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live. For the members of a country or a culture, shared knowledge of their place, their here, is not a luxury but a necessity. Without that knowledge, we will not survive.”

You would think that as an English major and a Canadian that this book would have been included in my repertoire somewhere buuuuut it wasn’t. Having now read it, if I had the chance to talk to my Canadian Lit prof I would have asked him why the hell this book was not included in the curriculum. This book may have some dated references but its content is exceptional and still viable and relevant. This book is both a criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

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Atwood is a total babe.

This book was published in 1972 and it addresses a non-academic audience in attempts to define what makes Canadian literature specifically Canadian and different from other major publishing countries in the world.

“What have been the central preoccupations of our poetry and fiction?…survival and victims.”

Canada is a harsh place to live in terms of weather and this aspect of the country played a major factor in its history, shaping its people, and how they view nature. It’s not hard to surmise that survival and being that of a victim would play a part in Canadian literature. Atwood breaks down her theory into four victim types:

Position One: To deny the fact that you are a victim. This is a position in which members of the “victim-group” will deny their identity as victims, accusing those members of the group who are less fortunate of being responsible for their own victimhood.

Position Two: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim (but attribute it to a powerful force beyond human control such as fate, history, God, or biology.
In this position, victims are likely to resign themselves to their fate.

Position Three: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim but to refuse to accept the assumption that the role is inevitable. This is a dynamic position in which the victim differentiates between the role of victim and the experience of the victim.

Position Four: To be a creative non-victim. A position for “ex-victims” when creativity of all kinds is fully possible.”

Atwood’s work is enticing, clear, funny and easy to agree with. Not only is this book an essential part of what defines Canadian literature, it can also be seen as the basis for the Canadian identity as a whole. While many who criticised this work found it lacking in historical evidence, the literary examples, while now dated, are excellent. I would love to see this theory put to the test with some more modern pieces of Canadian literature.

Survival is a great and short read that should be a part of every literary major’s reading list as well any Canadians.