Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

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It took me a while to digest Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. When I first start reading this novel, I had no clue what world I was about to discover and let me tell you it was all doom and gloom. The storyline was disturbing and stayed with me for days.

The Canadian author has hit all the right buttons to stir up the reader’s uneasiness. The dystopian world she describes in the novel is stark and skewed by religious fundamentalism. Written in 1985, the story revolves around Offred, a handmaid (female slave) in the new Republic of Gilead. The Gilead was formed after attacks on US government. The totalitarian state that took control has rigid laws against women. Women rights like equality, sexual reproduction rights and general human rights are deemed punishable by the men of the society. The fictional world has food rationing, class hierarchy and public hangings for wrongdoing especially for women. Does this ring a bell?

Offred (not the real name) is part of class called the handmaids. The purpose of handmaid in the society is to conceive and bear children for the families. They are dressed in red colour and symbolism of fertility. Women here are only considered for childbirth and taking care of household. The Commander, where she lives as handmaiden, sees her as more than simply a surrogate.  Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, is naturally jealous of Offred, but she is desperate for a child so, when Offred fails to become pregnant, Serena Joy arranges for her to sleep with Nick, the chauffeur.

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Offred is reluctant to accept this world and she cannot suppress her desires. This is why she thinks about her past life and how one day she can leave this dark world. The end of the story leaves you in suspense of whether Offred has found the freedom or prison.

The narration is very erratic as it jumps between past and present, and at times makes you confused due to obscure description. It is what author has emphasised to show in the novel. She wants readers to be perplexed while reading the novel because the world of Gilead is extremely disturbing and secretive.

The story is about power, fundamentalism and misogyny. It’s horrific but somewhat true to reality. I felt hopelessness and sadness while reading this story.

A word of caution: This is not a happy read. So if you want to have a nice weekend, do not pick this novel.

“Remember forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest. Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven.” – Excerpt from book

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Vintage Fiction, London

ISBN: 978-1-0-099-74091-9

320pp.

 

Book Review: I Have Lost My Way

i have lost my way

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“They maybe complete strangers, with different lives and different problems, but there in that examination room they are measuring sadness the same way. They are measuring it in loss.”

The excerpt is taken from Gayle Forman’s latest novel ‘I have lost my way’. The novel is about friendships, taking chances and transforming your loss into your gain.

Has it ever happened with you that you are lost? By lost I don’t mean you lose your way to home; what I mean is that you are lost, you are at crossroads where you don’t know where to go from here. You are standing at the tipping point and you need a clue or hint from anyone any where so that you can find your pathway.

The story revolves around three young adults, Freya, Nathaniel and Harun, who have never met, find themselves in the same spot, connected to one accident in a park in New York City.  Even though they belong  from different backgrounds, different families and different lives; the only link that join them together is the quest for their identity and be content with who they are.

Freya, an up-and-coming singer, is hurt because she has lost her voice. She didn’t know what to do because this is the only thing she is good at. Harun has lost the love of his life. Nathaniel has lost the most important person to him, his father.

What is the instant connection is that all three are going through the grief in their lives. But there is also sense of fear in all of them. Freya is scared that what if she can never sing and she may lose her fans which she gains in a short time period. Harun is devoted to his family but feels the need to run away to be who he truly is, and Nathaniel has lived his whole life alone with his (mentally unstable) father who due to overdosing lost his life. He is here in New York all alone with a secret which I cannot share as it will reveal the end of the story.

The story takes place over the course of one day and is broken up with flashbacks that reveal how three teenagers have all lost something important to them. All three meet by coincidence, but they understand each other so well. And in a one day span, they have become each other’s strength; and a lighting guide for each other to help find their lost path.

I also like the diversity in the characters. Freya is a half-Ethiopian girl who has a complex relationship with her older sister, Sabrina. Harun, a Pakistani boy, is figuring out how to reconcile his sexuality with his family’s religion. He’s expected to marry a Muslim girl, but Harun is hopelessly in love with his ex-boyfriend, James. Nathaniel is blind in one eye and struggling with depression after his father’s death. All his life, Nathaniel has coped with his father’s strange childlike tendencies: his inability to live in reality and his insistence that they are a ‘fellowship of two like Frodo and Sam’ in The Lord of the Rings.

I finished this novel in two sittings and though it is slow at the start, it gains its pace after few pages. This is the first time I have read Gayle Forman and I would say she writes very well. Forman has touched on human emotion and connection; her writing is lyrical and riveting which keeps one hooked to the novel till the last page. Although this story targets young adults, I am sure young minds will love this novel and probably few adults like me as well.

I will rate this novel 3.5/5.