Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.
She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.
~Synopsis from Good Reads
This is an extremely popular book that has been well-reviewed and discussed throughout the book blogosphere and I don’t really have anything new to add, but I will try anyway.
First off, I should mention that dystopia or science fiction is really not my scene, unless it is extremely well-written. Books like The Hunger Games don’t interest me all that much unless there is one particular aspect that clicks with me. Here, the click is its strong feminist point of view.
Throughout the book, I was reminded of the battle for women’s rights that took place earlier by women in the past, and how the protagonist Offred took these rights for granted until they were taken away from her. Today, I meet a lot of people who like to badmouth feminism and women’s rights, and quite so often these people happen to be women who are uncomfortable with some aspect of feminism (mostly to do with sexual freedoms, gay/lesbian rights, deterioration of family as a unit, and so on), and to them I want to say you have your comfortable jobs, some measure of independence and equality only because people fought for it. Reading this book reinforced the idea that it is important, hugely important to be aware of how easily these rights can be lost if women don’t stay watchful, we may just lose our heard-earned freedom.
Some parts of the book made me quite skeptical:
- The dystopian/science-fiction aspect was a bit meh. I love the premise, it’s believable, but the issue with reading dystopia almost 30 years after it’s written is that some of the impact is lost, and some parts of the book seem very outdated. For example, it’s hard to even visualize Offred’s level of isolation in a world where we seem to be more connected than ever. It didn’t take away my love for the book but I think the impact is a little less than if I had read the book when it was published.
- The timelines in the book are also hard to accept. I couldn’t visualize that thousands of modern young women and educated men would tolerate the complete eradication of their rights and freedoms. I am talking about women pretending that they can’t read, wives allowing handmaids to have sex with their husbands without a murmur, women giving up their biological children to others to rear…that kind of stuff, but then I remembered Nazi Germany and the power of one man to wreak havoc over an entire nation in a very short span of time.
Maybe these things are possible after all.
What I can confidently say is that I love the book, it’s a unique and very well-written story, with deep meaning. Probably the best book I read this year.
I read this book as part of The Classics Club reading challenge.