Saturday, October 6, 2012
Banned Book Week!
It's Banned Book Week, and to recognize that, I'm participating with Sheila of Book Journey (a great blog, by the way) in her Jump On the Banned Wagon series of posts about banned books. Stop by her site to see all of the participating blogs, many if not all of which are offering giveaways along with their posts.
I first read The Handmaid's Tale in 2003, and finished it two nights before my wedding. If you have ever read this book, you know that it is probably the very worst thing to read when you're going through serious pre-wedding stress! All joking aside, it's very difficult for me now to articulate just the effect this book had on me. "Traumatized" gets close!
It's a dystopia set in the Boston area in a future both distant and recognizable. The United States as we know it no longer exists; the Republic of Gilead has replaced it following a bloody coupe and nuclear war. After the war, many people are infertile; some fertile women deemed unfit for "respectable" life in this ultra-fundamentalist religious society are enslaved as sexual surrogates or "handmaids" and a young woman named Offred is a handmaid to a powerful couple. Other non-desirable women are forced to become domestic servants or prostitutes, or sent to clean up the nuclear wasteland. Privileged women can marry but no woman is allowed to work, learn to read, or have her own money. Homosexuality is anathema; abortion, a capital offense. Womens' bodies and minds are state property.
The story is meant on one level to be a tale of what could happen if certain kinds of religious fundamentalism already present in the world were to get the upper hand. The thing about this book that scared me so is that in some parts of the world it already has, and every day in this country we see more and more fighting over what women are allowed to do and be and want.
The Handmaid's Tale is probably the best-known of Atwood's novels and the one of hers with which most readers start. After I read it, and after a recovery period, I went on kind of a Margaret Atwood bender, during which I read all of her novels over the course of two years or so. And I have to say, those were among the best two years of my reading life. It's not for everybody- believe me, I get that. But I do think it's a cultural touchstone. So I think you should read it.