Samadrita's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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Consider this not a ground-breaking work of literature. Consider this not a piece of fiction boasting an avant-garde mode of narration.
Consider it not a commentary on the concept of subjugation of the weak by the ones holding the reins. Consider it not a thinly veiled feminist diatribe either.

Instead, consider The Handmaid's Tale an almost physical experience. Consider Margaret Atwood a fearless deliverer of unpleasant news - a messenger unafraid of dishing out the bone-chilling, cruel, unaltered truth and nothing but the truth.

Move over Bram Stoker. Move over H.P. Lovecraft. Fade away into oblivion, Edgar Allan Poe. Disappear down the depths of obscurity, Stephen King. Your narratives are not nearly as coldly brutal, your premonitions not nearly as portentous.
Because Ms Atwood, presents to us something so truly disturbing in the garb of speculative fiction that it reminds one of Soviet-era accounts of quotidian hardships in Gulag labour camps.

Speculative is it?

Aren't the Offreds (Of Fred) , Ofglens (Of Glen), Of warrens (Of Warren) of Gilead equivalent to the Mrs So-and-So-s of the present, reduced to the identity of their male partners? Isn't the whittling down of a woman to the net worth of her reproductive organs and her outer appearance an accepted social more? Isn't blaming the rape victim, causing her to bear the burden of unwarranted shame and social stigma a familiar tactic employed by the defense attorney?
Hasn't the 21st century witnessed the fate of Savita Halappanavars who are led to their untimely deaths by inhumane laws of nations still unwilling to acknowledge the importance of the life of a mother over her yet unborn child?
Doesn't the 21st century have materially prosperous nations governed by absurd, archaic laws which prohibit a woman from driving a car?
Doesn't the world still take pleasure in terrorizing activists like Caroline Criado-Perez with threats of rape and murder only because they have the audacity to campaign for female literary icons (Jane Austen) to become the face of Britain's 10-pound note?
Do I not live in a country where female foeticide is as normal an occurrence as the rising and setting of the sun?

Are we still calling this speculative fiction?

Some may wish to labour under the delusion that the women belonging to this much vaunted modern civilization of ours are not experiencing the same nightmare as Offred and are at perfect liberty to do what they desire. But I will not.
Because when I look carefully, I notice shackles encircling my feet, my hands, my throat, my womb, my mind. Shackles whose presence I have become so used to since the dawn of time, that I no longer possess the ability to discern between willful submission and conditioned subservience.

But thankfully enough, I have Margaret Atwood to jolt me back into consciousness and to will me to believe that I am chained, bound and gagged. That I still need to break free.
I thank her for making me shudder with indignation, revulsion and righteous anger. I thank her for causing bile to rise up my throat.
And I thank her for forcing me to see that women of the present do live in a dystopia like Offred's United States of America. We just prefer to remain blissfully blind to this fact at times.

Disclaimer:- I mean no disrespect to the other writers mentioned in this review all of whom I have read and deeply admire.
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Reading Progress

October 6, 2012 – Shelved
January 26, 2013 – Shelved as: man-booker-shortlist-longlist
February 2, 2013 – Shelved as: canada
March 4, 2013 – Shelved as: 1001-and-more
April 20, 2013 – Shelved as: by-women-who-matter
April 28, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read-next
July 15, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
August 15, 2013 – Started Reading
August 15, 2013 – Shelved as: dystopian-fiction
August 15, 2013 – Shelved as: disturbia
August 16, 2013 –
13.0% "So Offred is basically speaking inside her head. She doesn't have the liberty to write and even to speak freely or out of line. \n Although this explains the awkward, disjointed prose it still doesn't provide much comfort."
August 16, 2013 –
25.0% "I'm sure by the time I finish reading, I'll need to hug a few life-sized teddy bears and watch reruns of Teletubbies or cutesy anime shows to feel better again."
August 17, 2013 – Shelved as: feminism-feminist-undertones
August 17, 2013 –
61.0% ""What we prayed for was emptiness, so we would be worthy to be filled: with grace, with love, with self-denial, semen and babies"\n \n Oh book, please let me read you fast and get it over with so I don't have to suffer much longer."
August 18, 2013 –
100.0% "I'm glad it's over. But I'm equally glad to have known Offred."
August 19, 2013 – Shelved as: cherished
August 19, 2013 – Shelved as: adoration
August 19, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 23, 2013 – Shelved as: real-issues-fake-people
August 8, 2014 – Shelved as: gender-studies-sexuality

Comments Showing 1-50 of 109 (109 new)


message 1: by Veeral (last edited Aug 17, 2013 11:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Veeral The Handmaid's Tale = '1984' with a female Winston. I am really eager to read your thoughts for this book, Samadrita.


Samadrita Okay this is embarrassing but I won't get 1984 references since I haven't yet read that. *hides* And this is exactly the kind of book which may compel me to write a review.


Veeral No shame in that. In fact you have something to look forward to, which makes me jealous.

But in short (and in a loose sense), Offred = Winston. Winston is the protagonist of '1984'.


Diane Excellent review, Samadrita. I need to read this. I hope you found a teddy bear to hug now that you're done!


Scarlet Brilliant review.


Veeral Consider Samadrita one of the best reviewers on Goodreads.

Excellent!


Scarlet Consider Samadrita one of the best reviewers on Goodreads.

I second that.


Garima Scarlet wrote: "Consider Samadrita one of the best reviewers on Goodreads.

I second that."


I third that! ;)

Stunning review, Samadrita.


message 9: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King Excellent Samadrita...


·Karen· Brilliant and deeply felt.


message 11: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill These lines are amazing: But I will not.
Because when I look carefully, I notice shackles encircling my feet, my hands, my throat, my womb, my mind. Shackles whose presence I have become so used to since the dawn of time, that I no longer possess the ability to discern between willful submission and conditioned subservience.


You have such a refined style; I love it.

This sounds understandably horrifying and I can't wait to read it. First Atwood up for me, though, is The Blind Assassin. I do remember that some classes at my high school were assigned this book. Like any feminist book assigned to high school students (Chopin's The Awakening met a similar fate), students loathed it, moaning that the issues were no longer relevant to 21st century America. The worst part is some teachers agreed with the students and never challenged them to use the book in reconsidering their preconceptions.


Karen Beautifully said. Brava


Kerry Fine job, poignant without being feminist preachy.


message 14: by Rakhi (new) - added it

Rakhi Dalal That I still need to break free.
I thank her for making me shudder with indignation, revulsion and righteous anger.....
Wonderfully expressed! Well done,Samadrita! Loved it :)


message 15: by Samadrita (last edited Aug 19, 2013 12:18PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samadrita @Diane:- Ha I am going to read something light now to get over the trauma of reading this. And thank you!

@Veeral, Scarlet, Garima, Shruti:- You guys are way too kind. Thank you so much for the wonderful comments.

Shruti, I don't think the book resorts to extreme extrapolation or maybe it does but it doesn't go beyond the realm of the feasible. (I hope I'm not sounding like a nut.)

@Lynne:- Thank you as always.

@Karen:- Thank you. This book forced me to think. And that's always a good thing.


message 16: by Samadrita (last edited Aug 19, 2013 09:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samadrita @Jill:-Thank you so much. I need to read TBA now as well. It won the Man Booker after all and I am an Atwood fan now. I understand a book forced on students in the name of compulsory coursework may lose its appeal. But I don't think the content will become irrelevant any time soon. Given the rampant killing of female fetuses in most Asian nations, we maybe faced with a really bad sex ratio in the near future. And that in turn will cause more and more people to view women only as child-bearing machines, useful for increasing a declining population. Imagining Offreds won't be too ridiculous in such situations. Scary!

@Karen:- Thank you. I am glad you liked it.

@Kerry:- Thank you. But pray what do you mean by 'feminist preachy'?

@Rakhi:- Thank you as always.


message 17: by Clara (new)

Clara Brooks Reading a Samadrita reviews takes the words from my mouth and the brushstrokes from my pen. Reading a Samadrita review when she's feeling inspired leaves me struck cold down in awe and wonder. Goodreads is blessed with a prodigious talent here and I feel I lack the words to express my admiration.
Let me just say that I humbly enjoyed reading this review, Samadrita. I love your light flowing style, your delicacy with words, your curiosity and your clever trains of thought. I love that you don't just write reviews, you write little pieces of art and they put a little smile on my face to read them. Thank you.


Aubrey Powerful review, Samadrita. It's good to see such a fruitful exorcism of this book's possession.


Samadrita @Clara:- As always you are way too generous mademoiselle. But excuse me while I go save your comment somewhere to savour it later on in moments of solitude or when in desperate need of inspiration in any form. Thank you so much for your encouraging words!

@Shruti:- Ha! I am relieved to know you don't think so. :)

@Aubrey:-Thank you as ever. Trust you to come up with such a brilliant metaphor.


message 20: by Ian (last edited Aug 19, 2013 03:05PM) (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye How does/can the dystopia come to an end? "What is to be done?"


s.penkevich Fantastic review, Samadrita. Very heartfelt! I should re-read this (it was a required summer read my sophomore year of high school, so I didn't really give it proper due). Your review has sold me that this shall happen soon.


message 22: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris I'm echoing Aubrey -- Samadrita, this is such a powerful review. Your anger is eloquent and very well justified. We can all add to the list of atrocities that you include here. The next step is to take action against them.


Samadrita @Ian:- I have no answer to that question. Perhaps this dystopia never will come to an end. Such is human nature. What 'we' can do is keep raising our voice against the unjust things that happen all over the world and hope things get better.
(I was tempted to include the example of Julia Gillard's brush with misogyny during her term as PM in the review but then thought better of it. You will know much more about it than I do. )

@spenk:- Thanks, Steve. I think you should give it a re-read. Another person too complained about not being able to grasp the central themes in this book or determine their relevance because they were forced to read this as coursework.

@Kris:-Thank you as ever. I wonder what actions we can take and when this dystopia will come to an end just like Ian wondered aloud here.


Alex Never read 1984? *shakes head disappointedly*


message 25: by Samadrita (last edited Aug 20, 2013 08:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samadrita Alex wrote: "Never read 1984? *shakes head disappointedly*"

Yes as is obvious, I am not fit to live in society. I should be quarantined immediately, transferred to a solitary cell and not let out until I have read the whole of 1984, cover to cover, in a record time.
It's a wonder how I have escaped detection as a 1984 ignoramus for so long.

P.S.:-Does having read 2 pages count?


Kalliope I had a hard time with this novel. But you've done a wonderful review.

Just be careful with disclaimers...


message 27: by R.S. (new) - rated it 5 stars

R.S. Carter This one is sitting by my bed right now. To read this particular review just before I cracked it open is almost too sweet, too perfect. Great review.


Gary  the Bookworm Samadrita wrote:"Shackles whose presence I have become so used to since the dawn of time, that I no longer possess the ability to discern between willful submission and conditioned subservience."

That is a very powerful statement in a very powerful review. Margaret Atwood's work is as good a place as any to break free from those shackles. I wonder if her Canadian background gives her the needed distance to so effectively eviscerate American misogyny.


message 29: by Tej (new) - added it

Tej Yes yes yes and yes indeed... It appears like the greatest challenge may not be exactly the same as protagonist of this or similar books but it is of similar if not greater proportions and is against hypocrisy of it all along with the conscious effort towards remaining conscious. So easy to push ourselves into lugubrious slumber in this furtively illusory age.

Well written, well expressed and erudite review Samadrita, need I add... AS ALWAYS :)

Thanks and do carry on the good work


Aubrey Samadrita wrote: "Alex wrote: "Never read 1984? *shakes head disappointedly*"

Yes as is obvious, I am not fit to live in society. I should be quarantined immediately, transferred to a solitary cell and not let out..."


*snort*

Conform! Conform...


message 31: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Reclaim, rather than disclaim, starting with the night.


message 32: by Ian (last edited Aug 20, 2013 12:09PM) (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Can I make some humble suggestions about "what is to be done".

1. Woman, Heal Thyself

Everything starts with your relationship with yourself. Heal thyself, become whole and you are ready for the other challenges.

2. Invent New Modes of Leadership

You might need to be a leader. We see mainly males in leadership roles, therefore the prevailing mode of leadership is masculine. It might not be the only or the best mode of leadership.

3. Shape the Relationship with Your Partner

You deserve to have what you want. Start with your own most immediate relationship.

4. Teach Your Children Well

Every male/son starts life with a mother. If we can't end Dystopia this generation, you can contribute to the achievement of Utopia in future generations, starting with your children.

It is equally important to teach our daughters what to contribute to and expect from relationships.

The best way of teaching is by example. Children learn about relationships from their parents' relationships.

You can make a difference.


message 33: by Samadrita (last edited Aug 21, 2013 02:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samadrita @Kall:-I can understand why you must have. I had a hard time reading too, the intense morbidity gets to the reader at some point. I hope you give it a second chance some day.

@R.S.:- Good to know that R.S. and thank you. I hope to know your own thoughts about Atwood's dystopian masterpiece once you finish reading.

@Gary:- Thank you. While I read this I didn't limit the scope of Atwood's message on the fate of women only to America or a specific country or continent. It's universally true and applicable is what I think.

@Tej:- Thank you, as always. :) Atwood surely provides a wake up call for our slumbering conscience in this one.

@Aubrey:- Yes m'lady! Conform I have to.

@Ian:- That is a fine 4-pointer you have provided and one that needs to be followed by every single person, irrespective of gender. I hope I can contribute in my own way towards much-needed change.


message 34: by Aubrey (last edited Aug 21, 2013 04:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Aubrey Samadrita wrote: "@Aubrey:- Yes m'lady! Conform I have to."

Ha ha, you don't have to. I was just amused by the idea of there being such a thing to conform to, in terms of literature at any rate.


Samadrita Aubrey wrote: "Samadrita wrote: "@Aubrey:- Yes m'lady! Conform I have to."

Ha ha, you don't have to. I was just amused by the idea of there being such a thing to conform to, in terms of literature at any rate."


But isn't there? I thought never reading any Dickens was a crime. :P
On a serious note, I have read Animal Farm but I wish to read some other Orwell before 1984.


Aubrey I got Dickens burn-out a while back. Haven't seen fit to immerse myself any deeper into his cult while there are so many other (better) authors to experience.

As for Orwell, I've heard good things about his 'Down and Out in Paris and London', although I haven't read it myself as of yet.


message 37: by Clara (new)

Clara Brooks Aubrey wrote: "Haven't seen fit to immerse myself any deeper into his cult while there are so many other (better) authors to experience.

There are no better authors than Dickens, whatchootalkinabout?


Samadrita No one tops Dickens in my eyes, except maybe Dostoyevsky.
I guess I'll never tire of either of them.
I have 'Homage to Catalonia' which I am going to read soon because I know nothing about the Spanish Civil War. Down and Out in Paris is also on the radar.


Alex I haven't read 1984 since I was 16. It's the kind of book that has a strong impact on a fresh brain. Very immediate and very powerful, the politics of it are simple and brutal. It's still probably my favourite work from Orwell. Down and Out was very good, actually.


Samadrita I understand and I will read it someday. Definitely. Right now I'm fully immersed into the horror brought forth by the policies implemented by real totalitarian regimes.
But before this discussion goes anymore off-topic, I suppose no sweeping generalizations regarding books and authors are valid. Everything is subject to our taste, understanding, opinions and so on. We can only agree to disagree on the kind of books one must read at least once in their lifetime.


Dolors I simply love the protest tone in your daring review, Samadrita. You managed to put into words what I felt as discomfort while reading Atwood's novel. I think this is possibly the best review I've read on this novel so far. You're a gifted writer who shakes dormant souls inside out. Congratulations!


Samadrita Dolors wrote: "I simply love the protest tone in your daring review, Samadrita. You managed to put into words what I felt as discomfort while reading Atwood's novel. I think this is possibly the best review I've ..."

That is high praise, Dolors and I'm unsure of whether I am deserving of such. But thank you as ever for your encouraging words. I experienced acute discomfort while reading, just as you did. I suppose no woman can remain unaffected after listening to Offred's traumatized voice.


Kandi I recently finished this book, too, and was so blown away, I had to look at other reviews of this book, to see if I was alone... Honestly, thank you for your thoughts on this story. We both share how utterly horrifying this reading experience was, especially in today's political climate.

With the political agendas of some states here in the US, this story hit me especially hard - I can't believe "The Handmaid's Tale" was written in 1986. Maybe this is a "playbook", like "Atlas Shrugged", for the Religious Right? I truly wish I could get ALL my female friends across the country to read this!!! So many of them are just ignoring what's going on with women's rights lately, and we can NOT do that or something like this could happen - at least, this is what I fear....


message 44: by Ema (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ema Samadrita, what a powerful and heart-felt review! I haven't read this novel, it's on my list, but it seems I have to brace myself for the emotions it will stir inside me.
I appreciate the parallels you make with our time, especially regarding your country. I've read the info from two of your links and it's shuddering to know all that! I had no idea there was a law against abortion in Ireland... And I was hoping that the killing of baby girls has been reduced or even eradicated... All this is awful.


message 45: by Samadrita (last edited Sep 03, 2013 11:43PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samadrita @Kandi:-I am acutely aware of the ongoing 'war on women' in the U.S. and the instances of hatred of women throughout the world. Which is why I think the appeal of THT is timeless and not restricted to a particular country. We are a long way off from the full realization of concepts like equality or a collective purging of misogyny in societies worldwide. This is truly an eye-opener of a book since I refuse to view it as mere speculative, dystopian fiction. Thank you for your informative comments, Kandi.

@Ema:- Thank you so much. I think you should definitely make time for this soon. Atwood gives us a reminder of the present situation of women's rights all over the world in an indirect but effective manner. This book is equal parts terrifying and enlightening.


Lit Bug I agree it is not speculative fiction in the least - it only amplifies what we are so used to that we hardly even notice it anymore... Atwood is a genius.


Samadrita Lit Bug wrote: "I agree it is not speculative fiction in the least - it only amplifies what we are so used to that we hardly even notice it anymore... Atwood is a genius."

She truly is. What a powerful writer! I simply have to read more of her works now.


message 48: by Rog (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rog Great review thank you


Samadrita Roger wrote: "Great review thank you"

Thank you, Roger!


Traveller You eloquently speak for all of us, Samadrita! Most Western women have become so complacent in their little havens while women in the rest of the world are contemptuously savaged. Daily, when I look at the news and see the contempt they are treated with, I feel rage against the machine. But what are we to do, how to break that terrible grip that does not stop at outright killing (in savage ways) ?

Yes, even we in Western society still wear certain shackles, but at least our fates are much gentler than what many of the women you mention have to face.


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