I haven’t read it in English, although I should have obviously, anyway, here is a translation attempt of my initial post in French.
A cult book that I always wanted to read, but I was a bit scared of. Now it seems hard to find words to honor it. Because it is an eminently powerful, complex, rich and meaningful text, and because it is essential to me.
In this book, the first author’s dystopia, written in 1987, the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, denounces totalitarian regimes, but it is more about women, it even is a true feminist manifesto.
It depicts a futuristic world (in the 2000s) where religion has taken power – The christian fascist Republic of Gilead - and where women, deprived of their liberty, can only do housework or bear children for the commanders’ wifes who have become infertile because of pollution.
The narrator is called Offred (because Fred is the name of her commander), and the book is a kind of confession or diary of her life as a prisoner, as she serves as the uterus to her commander. She tells us about her dailyroutine and she recalls the memories of her past life, then a free woman, mother of a little girl. Then through her memories, she tells us how the world changed, in a very short time.
Women no longer have the right to be free, they can no longer work, nor read or even speak, when some were deported to the « colonies » to treat nuclear waste …. The perpetrators of crime (suc as insurgency, adultery ..) are hung on a wall (that of the former Harvard University).
In this book remarkably controlled until the end, where everything is symbol and allegory, and full of references (I thought a lot about The scarlet Letter from Hawthorne), the author shows a nightmarish world where everything described seems plausible, because the attacks against women already happened (in our ancient societies andstill today in many countries), and because this could happen in our world today (pollution responsible for the sterility, the police state, the return to puritanical values and ultra- traditionalists, the justification for heinous acts taken on behalf of the economic crisis or some other very bad reason … and so on).
For all these reasons, this book is terribly chilling because the threat does not seem so remote. This is a book that reads with fear and loathing because some scenes are described in great details while others are just suggested but seem then all the more evocative and vile.
If this book definitely reminds of Orwell ‘s 1984, its originality is to be dedicated to women. This book is a call to women’s resistance. If it could serve as a memory to all women of today who have forgotten that if they are free today, this is mainly because of others have fought for them before and we must remain vigilant, always.