Somehow, I had never even heard of this book until last year’s Cannonball Read. The premise is intriguing. In the not-too-distant future, a Puritanical religious group has overthrown the United States and formed the Republic of Gilead. Women are no longer allowed to read, and are divided into classes based on their ability to breed. The main character, Offred, is a Handmaid. Basically she is the mistress of a powerful Commander and once a month she has to have sex with him while laying in the arms of his wife. If a child is born, the Commander and his wife will keep it, and she will be sent to a new household and attempt to do it again. Sex is strictly for procreation. There is no romance, and certainly no illicit love affairs. There are public executions, and the bodies of priests, nuns, and doctors are left to rot along the town walls.
Offred finds a carving inside her closet that was left by the previous Handmaid. It says, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” which means “Don’t let the bastards get you down”. The previous Handmaid must not have heeded her own advice, because she hung herself. This story is bleak, but it is engrossing. I couldn’t put this one down. This one is a classic for a reason.
I read a lot of post-apocalyptic or dystopian books this year: Mockingjay, World War Z and Robopocalypse. However, this was by far the most terrifying. In a society where women who have been raped are forced to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds to get an abortion, or doctors have the right to not tell the mother if her pregnancy may kill her, this story doesn’t seem too farfetched.