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24 August 2010

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 births, 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...  (from back cover)

I have never read Margaret Atwood before (I know, color me ashamed), so I was excited to participate in the Classic Reads read-along hosted this time by Trish from Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin'?  
Our assignment this week was to read Sections I through IV which is about 75 pages.  The read-along encompasses a short amount each week and goes through the end of September, so you should definitely join!

I'm finding it really tough to restrain myself and not keep turning the pages and reading more in advance of next week's questions.  To be honest, I could really read this in one night -- the writing is very easy to read and the story line is absolutely amazing, not to mention terrifying.  Instead of feeling what I expected to feel at first (I'm sure I will later) which was wanting people to immediately fight back against the laws of this society, I actually read the first 75 pages and shivered in fear of 
all of the new laws and oppression and sadness.  And the complacency.  The acceptance of the way life just is now.

What is interesting about this dystopian novel is that the rules have only
recently changed -- Offred, the Handmaid, can remember what life was like before all of these terrifying laws came into effect and the subsequent loss of freedom and rights.  Most dystopian novels take place well after the change in society has happened, or you assume it's just another world somewhere that has always just been like that. But what if it just recently happened?  How did a society where women and men had rights and especially, choice, fall apart to rigid restriction and decisions made for you by someone else?  How did they let this happen?  Was it really 
past their ability to care anymore because they were just used to it?

Could something like that really happen today?  A great point brought up on the read-along by Lisa from Lit and Life are the things that are slowly changing when it comes to air travel since September 11th.  I travel a lot for work and so I've felt these changes quite a bit -- it used to be that you could walk someone all the way to their gate to see them off on the plane, but not anymore.  Then it changed even more where you couldn't bring anything larger than a 3 ounce bottle of liquid through security.  And now, there's a lot of debate about the new security screening machine that can literally see what your body looks like under your clothes!  Although I don't mind that we have to say our good-byes at the security screening area, is it possible that we're actually setting ourselves up and building up our tolerances, essentially becoming desensitized to these small changes where one day we're just complacent to one more change after another?

I wonder if 
The Handmaid's Tale really isn't so far-fetched -- what do you think?

Happy Reading!
Coffee and a Book Chick


  1. That's a good point Natalie. I only recently learned about that new body scanner and was shocked. How can such technology exist in the first place! However unlike the characters in the book i really believe that sooner or later someone will stand up and question these new rules about traveling (or any rules that seem to confine. Not everyone is passive and that is one of history's lesson for us.

  2. We can only hope that none of these dystopian fantasies will ever come true and that we are too smart for that!

  3. I recently bought this for my son, having read it when it first came out and having numerous nightmares because of it. It was published in 1985 - the time of Reagan and the religious right - so it didn't seem too farfetched. To be honest, it doesn't seem so farfetched now, either. *shudders*

  4. @ Bookventures -- I really do hold out hope that we collectively would stand up for true injustice. It certainly makes me question my own confidence, and I'll certainly make special efforts to take note when I think something is wrong!

    @ Book Bird Dog -- You are so right, the dystopian novel is one that I will pray, hope, dream...never happens!

    @ Caitlin -- It is a frightening world to think of, and I agree -- nightmares galore will be coming about as I proceed forward with this book!! How do you feel the book compares to events going on today? Do you think (although set in a timeless place) that it can be fairly relevant to any time period? I'm curious what people think if it could be relevant for any time period, and I think that's the beauty of Atwood's novel that I'm sensing right now, you know? Okay, maybe one more page tonight, and really give myself a good screaming nightmare, right?! :)

  5. I've read a few Margaret Atwood books, and I really didn't enjoy them. I had crossed Atwood off my list of authors I want to read. I decided to give her another try, and I really loved this book! I'll have to try one of her other novels soon.

  6. @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict -- Ooh, you should join the read-along! If you've read it, it might help provide some great insights into our discussion!

  7. I'm not really a big dystopian fiction reader but I think because this one seems to be set so soon after things have changed it makes it easier to imagine how it could happen. It is scary!

  8. That modernness in The Handmaid's Tale reminded me so much of Iran, how they have this incredibly vital tradition of intellectuals and literature and art, and yet how oppressive the regime has come to be. The specifics of the dystopian world often seemed unlikely, but not the premise in general.

  9. @ Lisa -- You should join the read along! I think there are definite misconceptions to the dystopian novels (I was part of thinking those thoughts, too), but this book has really helped turn it all around!

    @ Jenny -- I totally agree with you! I've seen documentaries on what Iran was like 30 years ago, and it's amazing to see that when you look at some of the pictures of the people, they were wearing outfits that you would see anywhere else in the world during the '70s and '80s. How different it is today, huh? The Handmaid's Tale definitely could apply to that, what a great point!

  10. I'm not a big dystopian fan either but love this book! Children of Men by P.D. James sort of reminded me of it as well. Also, you have to read The Blind Assassin - it is one of my favorites, and I've actually been meaning to re-read it.

    I hope you enjoy!

  11. @ picky girl -- This book has definitely changed my perspective on this genre! So therefore Children of Men and The Blind Assassin, check! I've put them on the list now to pick up, thanks!!

  12. Thanks for adding! I really like your blog. I'll definitely have to follow it!

    I actually tried to pick this book up a few months ago to read and just couldn't feel it.

  13. I was astonished at this book - so good. and have since decided to read everything I can by Atwood. She's quite diverse, really.

  14. @ Tedious and Brief -- Thanks for stopping by! Ooh, you should try it again -- if you have time (I know, who does?!), you should join the read-along! Sometimes it's easier to get a better feel for a story when we can discuss it, you know?

    @ Care -- I'm right there with you! I am blown away and I'm not even 100 pages in for the read-along! I can't wait to read more of her work!

  15. I really feel like I need to read this book! I'm glad to see you're enjoying it.

  16. @ bermudaonion -- You should read it, I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

  17. This was the first dystopian novel I ever red, I think. I loved it and found it terrifying.

    I do think (and did so at the time) that it could happen. Like you say, small changes at first, and then something like this.

    It would not necessarily be under the government as you/we have now, but if enough people vote for some party that has these types of "reforms" in the back of their minds, who knows?

  18. @ leeswammes -- Yes, it definitely could happen one day, if people don't voice their concerns/opinions as the small changes happen. I guess a fear could be that people are afraid to make "noise" because they're worried what people may think of them, you know?

  19. Oh! I should have done this. Haha. I have The Handmaids Tale at home, just haven't read it yet!

    By the way, I posted my review of Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal. It was so good! If you're interested it's at The Crowded Leaf.

  20. I don't think it would take much to put society out of kilter, such as a major castrophe, such as earthquake or something along those linnes that would cause the country to split. There was a show on TV called Jericho, where something similiar happened and the U.S. was broken up into sectors I think.

    Anyway, people today have become too complacent, and do not question what their government is doing. Who cares about the Kardashians or Housewives of whatever. If that is all people watch, then they will be surprised when something like this occurrs. I don't think anything is ever out of the realm of possibility.

    Totally enjoying this book also, and I am so reading ahead! I can't wait to find out what happens. This was an excellent posts and your comments on the discussion were excellent as well.
    I look forward to chatting with you more in the future.

  21. Forgot! Thanks for stopping by my blog too!
    You said the book of book says "Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing..." mine doesn't say anything at all like that. It is an old paperback though.
    I don't know where the funny comes from because I find nothing funny at all.

  22. it is terrifying to look at the date it was written and realize how much atwood saw coming! i love this book!

  23. @ Alayne -- You should join! It's a fabulous read-along and the book is incredible! I really want to read Burning Silk, too, so will be hopping by shortly!

    @ Jenny Girl -- I agree, a major catastrophe could certainly send everything into a tailspin and set things down the wrong course. And the copy that I have says that the book is also "funny." Can you believe that! I don't find it funny in the least bit.

    @ Priya Parmer -- You are so right, written 20 years ago and still very, very close to home (as far as possibility!).

  24. This seems like fun! I'm in a dystopian mood after reading Mockingjay...I hope you are enjoying it! I will add this to my TBR but I will refrain from participating because I have an ARC to finish and 5 books I bought at BN yesterday, oops.

  25. I remember thinking The Handmaid's Tale was not far from reality at all! I'll not forget her using butter for hand cream. Still, this is not my favorite Atwood by any means. I much prefer Cat's Eye and my all time favorite is The Robber Bride. You might like those sometime, after you finish this one.

    By the way, LOVE your photographs of Italy in the sidebar!

  26. I totally agree with your thoughts. I think it's just like the stuff going on now with 9/11. I mean, I can't believe The Patriot Act is in place. It is unbelievably un-Constitutional. In my graduate Library and Info classes, I read how the ALA is totally against the Patriot Act and how crazy it is. And still...almost every Presidential candidate running in last election is completely for it. Changes come in small package usually and not in huge swoops. Scary.

  27. I'm not actually participating in the read-a-long since I've read The Handmaid's Tale a few times already. But I have been following along with the discussion and what a discussion you guys have been having! I agree with your point (well, Lisa's point) about air travel. After Sept. 11 air travel is the most obvious thing that has changed, that we have gone along with in the name of security. It's definitely easy to see how little by little, freedoms can be chipped away, with the general population consenting, until it's too late to stop it and things have changed drastically for the worse.

  28. @ Danielle -- I know your pain! I've got so many books to catch up on, that I'm trying to figure out when I'll get anything done!! I've got Mockingjay right now, and am loving it!

    @ Bellezza -- I can't wait to tackle other Atwood novels; I can already tell she's going to be one of my favorites! The Italy pictures were from my honeymoon last year -- I can't wait to go back to Italy again, hopefully next year!

    @ Amanda -- This book certainly brings about so many different viewpoints, and I love that about a good novel! Little changes, day by day, can be a very scary thing, huh?

    @ Heahter at Book Addiction -- We certainly have been having quite the chat on it at the read-along! Lisa was spot on about air travel after 9/11 being quite different than beforehand. And it is quite a nerve-wracking thing to watch!

  29. Good point re: building up our tolerances/essentially being desensitized. I found this book incredibly scary, and it haunted me for days afterwards, more so because it was USA in which this new world emerged, and not one of the other countries in this world which disrespect women and withhold their rights!

    I spent ages thinking about how I'd be able to survive in this society, and I just reached the conclusion that I wouldn't, and I'd rather kill myself than become a handmaid... I have a feeling, I'm not the only one.

  30. I read this many moons ago but sadly yes. We are giving up more and more of our 'freedoms' and not doing squat about it. Sad that you can take away/restrict ridiculous things in the name of 'safety.'

  31. @ anothercookiecrumbles -- I'm right there with you; I have this feeling that if I were in this world, I would be struggling so hard to not shout out and be depressed all the time, but I wonder if with those little changes day by day, would I even notice it, or would I just be so used to it that I didn't even know when everything really changed? It's such a frightening thought!

    @ pinkflipflops -- You are spot on! Just the idea of doing something for safety's sakes may cross the line and we might not even realize it at the time, you know? Thanks for stopping by!

  32. I am definitely reading this in the next two weeks. I've had it for so long!!

  33. @ BookQuoter -- Oh, you have to read it! You should join the read along, too!


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