The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

You gather the courage to look back to look into the future. Margaret Atwood’s compelling and profound novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was published in 1985. The story is dystopian – a possibility that directly and effectively stamps on the feet of what makes human humane.

What makes this novel so captivating is that it has a human element. It’s not just a story that restricts women into their homes, compartmentalizes them based on their fertility and corporeal value so that it brings profitability to the men in power. But it’s also a historical story. A strict regime, punishable by death offenses, rape, moral codes, chaste clothing and conduct, and social and cultural regimentation. What Atwood does is she fictionalizes all this hurt, this puritanical pecking order without minimizing the historical suffering of it. The story merely reflects what has been done before. And the telling of it, in crisp, elaborate, and provocative sentences, is one of the best I’ve read.

You feel the intensity of the story and of the lives of all the women under surveillance and unconsented conformity to Gilead when you read the following lines. “What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise, there are only two dimensions. Otherwise, you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise, you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”

The narration is chilling and terrifying. You’re catapulted into the past, before the regime, where the protagonist lived an intellectually, politically, and sexually uninhibited life. Then, in the present, where you read her words as your own as she navigates the “burning city” in all its heaviness, darkness, and soulless existence. Read The Handmaid’s Tale not because it’s one of the top dystopian novels of all time. The novel is psychologically-incisive in that it’s reflective of what we are all familiar with