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The Handmaid's Tale [Paperback]

Margaret Atwood
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (252 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 8 1999
In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate “Handmaids” under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the “time before” and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.

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Throughout her career, Margaret Atwood has played with different literary genres in her novels--historical fiction (Alias Grace), pulp fiction (The Blind Assassin), the comedy of manners (The Robber Bride)--but no foray into genre fiction has been as successful as her turn to speculative fiction in The Handmaid's Tale. Published in 1985, it echoes Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, but a vibrant feminism drives Atwood's portrait of a futuristic dystopia. In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offred is one of Gilead's Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.

The Handmaid's Tale is an imaginatively audacious novel that is at once a page-turning psychological thriller, a moving love story, and a chilling warning about what might be waiting for us around the corner. What ultimately makes it stand out is Atwood's ability to balance a passionate political statement with finely wrought literary fiction. The Handmaid's Tale is a remarkable work by one of Canada's most inventive writers. --Jeffrey Canton

From Library Journal

In a startling departure from her previous novels ( Lady Oracle , Surfacing ), respected Canadian poet and novelist Atwood presents here a fable of the near future. In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. This powerful, memorable novel is highly recommended for most libraries. BOMC featured alternate. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Handmaidenly Handful of Fear Oct. 4 2001
Format:Paperback
Picture a world, not far in the future; consisting of low birth rates, oppressed females, religions, constant wars, and a never-ending battle for freedom of thought. That is the type of setting presented in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. This book tells the tale of Offred, who happens to be one of the few handmaids in the world. A Handmaid is a woman who is used as a tool for the leaders of the world in order to procreate. Sound scary? You have no idea. Atwood describes a world full of fear and oppression that is easily portrayed through the narrative of Offred. With her harrowing words, Offred describes the people, places, and her thoughts quite clearly, leaving readers only in the wake of her emotions. She speaks to the readers personally about her contact with an underground organization, her past, the events leading up to the present, her secret affair, and much much more. All I can say is that this book holds you in a grip of anticipation and mystery as to how the set of events will unfold. The only thing you can do while reading this book, is to hold on for a wild ride of excitement and suspense. This book is a change from Atwood's common writing style, but she seems to handle it like a pro. You will definitely feel a sense of satisfaction when you put this book down. I highly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somber and suffocating Feb. 3 2012
By S Svendsen TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Atwood has a way with words. Her sentences are often poetic, but can be stark and abrupt, chopped off. At times this is intriguing but at other times irritating. This is a speculative novel about a newly established territory, Gilead, in north-eastern America, ruled by a secretive despotic regime. The Handmaid is Offred (her imposed Gileaden name), who is confined to an asylum where women are kept to breed a new generation of superior beings fathered by privileged "Commanders." She tells her story biographically. Often she has memory backflashes of her pre-Gilead life, her childhood, her mother, her husband Luke and their daughter. These recollections frequently surface mid-paragraph and even mid-sentence, which, as the mind works, is realistic but can be annoying for the reader who has to pause and sort out her present from her past.

Offred's somber tale describes a bleak situation that can be characterized as suffocating, lacking airiness. Her life is dreary and tedious, filled with obscure anguish. The overall theme is that women are helpless victims to men's schemes rooted in fascistic power structures legitimized by quasi-religious creeds and rituals. Instead of toeing the line, as she fails to conceive, Offred succumbs to her own need for emotional and physical diversion but these experiences only conspire to ensnare her rather than liberate. The last third of the book made it worthwhile for me but I thought the appendaged "Historical Notes" distracted from and complicated what would have been a furtively simple open-ended conclusion.

Religious fundamentalism, patriarchial oppression and political fascism are topics Atwood has woven into The Handmaid's Tale to interplay with a disconsolate feministic undertone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read June 18 2003
Format:Paperback
The Handmaid's Tale is fashioned as a dystopia, with an emphasis on feminism. The novel takes place in the late twentieth-century Republic of Gilead after an extremist right-wing group takes contol of what was formerly known as the United States. The main character is Offred, a Handmaid whose sole task in society is based on her biological function to produce children. Due to environmental pollution, a scourge of declining birthrates has befallen the nation. The Gileadean solution, essentially what critic Karen Stein calls "state-sanctioned rape," is a monthly fertilization ritual of the handmaids by the Commander of the Faith appropriated to them by the government. Thus originates Offred's name, literally denoting her status as a possession of Fred.
Under the guise of religious salvation, the Gileadean regime builds a social structure that is rigid, oppressive, and above all, misogynistic. Women in Gilead, "two-legged wombs [...] sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices," are valued solely for their fertility. As complacency replaces the strong wills of the independent woman around Offred, her hope diminishes as well. In her horrifying tale, Margaret Atwood emphasizes the idea that the oppression on women in a totalitarian state is powerful enough to destroy the human will.
By exaggerating some existing misogynistic attitudes and intertwining them with an affecting plot and characters, Atwood finds similar success in her endeavors to shed light upon and caution against a horrific societal treatment of women. Although it's just as depressing as fellow dystopias 1984 and Brave New World, it's more beautifully written. Like the two other novels, however, it's frighteningly plausible and in some places feels all too familiar. I highly recommend this book to men and women. Read it even if you don't think it's "your type." This fascinating story is creative and in depth- it is not to be missed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What if this really happens? June 3 2002
Format:Paperback
The Handmaid's Tale - by Margaret Atwood
THE HANDMAID'S TALE is a frightening look at a not too distant future where sterility is the norm, and fertile woman are treated as cattle, to produce children for the upper class who cannot have any. The narrator Offred, as she is called in her new life, is the Handmaid for a top Commander in the new government. Once a month she is tested by a gynecologist to ensure that she is healthy, and then is taken to the Commander and his wife in the hopes of becoming pregnant.
Offred, along with the other handmaid's, are not allowed to look directly at anyone else. They all wear the same outfits; red long dresses and headgear that cover their bodies. They live together, spend most of their time together, and are taken care of, in the hopes that they will produce children for this barren society. In this society, most women are not allowed to read, and are treated as if they have no minds. The government dictates their role in society. If they disobey, they are punished severely.
Offred's memories often go back to a time when she was happily married to Luke, and with their daughter they were looking forward to a long and happy life together. Things changed when a military group took over the government, and immediately their lives as they knew it were over. Women lost all rights to ownership; bank accounts were frozen, land was taken away; fertile women were taken away from their husbands and families. A handful of older women were made into 'Aunts', and their duties were to instruct and guide the handmaids, reminding them of their role on this earth, which is to procreate.
I have to say that my feelings during this book were of shock.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This story stands the test of time.
Published 24 days ago by Cairn Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars one of my all time fav's
It's a great book. I've read it over 10 times in the last 6 or 7 years!! A very hard book to put down
Published 1 month ago by belynda
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
I didn't really like it. It was too dark for me.
Published 2 months ago by Bonnie
5.0 out of 5 stars A wake-up call for our times.
This novel could not be more relevant in today's religious extremist political matrix. Read it and shudder. A brilliant work. A favorite author.
Published 3 months ago by Implied Zero
4.0 out of 5 stars Revisiting a school classic
Very well written, leaves you guessing at the end. Funny how improbable it all seems now.
Re-reading books that you read as an adolescent but now as an adult gives you a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jacquie Cushnie
1.0 out of 5 stars Feminist? Not so much.
It's been over a year since I read this and my blood still boils every time someone mentions it. The majority of this novel was incredibly boring, even though the premise was... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Brittanny
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrible world - wonderful book about it
I really like this book, but not because it was an enjoyable read. Actually, it did more to piss me off than anything, but in a good way. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars ending unexpected
When approaching the ending, I had a strong feeling that she was going to die. This book was filled with flashbacks, gloomy atmospheres, and a tone suggesting death. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Liliania
5.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to the classical writing style....
In the modern era very few authors have taken the time and effort to maintain the classical writing style that was so prevalent during the 19th and 20th centuries. Read more
Published on June 5 2011 by Ronald W. Maron
5.0 out of 5 stars Very convincing
I just finished reading the book, and what can I say, AMAZING! Great read. The writing style is superb, very convincing, detailed and touching. It is very moving. Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2009 by S. El-Hilo
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