BOOK REVIEW: The Testaments

atwood

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (SF Novel, 2019).

Fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the misogynistic nightmare Republic of Gilead is still in power. But that power may be slipping. At the least, resistance persists, both inside and outside its borders. An endless war grinds on against California, protests mount in other neighboring countries (like Canada, for instance) and an underground movement helps people escape its puritanical (not to mention hypocritical) regime.

This absolutely splendid sequel to an acknowledged classic revolves around the accounts of three women.

The eldest is, outwardly, a power-broker in the very oppressive government she seeks to undermine. A senior Aunt, her secret diary fills in the details of how Gilead arose in the rubble of a collapsing USA, how she survived and, in ruthlessly compelling fashion, how she ascended to the maximum of power/influence that a person of her gender could reach in this perversely male-dominated society. Knowing all the ugly secrets, she has resolved to bring the how thing crashing down–even though it will surely crush her along with it.

The chapters she narrates share space with the recorded testimonies of two younger women–each part of the first generation to grow up under Gilead’s looming power. One is an outwardly privileged yet profoundly wounded daughter of one of the regime’s prominent Commanders. The other (her younger half-sister, though neither are aware of the other at first) was carried to freedom by their birth-mother. In Canada, the younger lives unknowing with adoptive parents who try to shield her from the ugliness across the border. But they will be found out. Her adoptive parents are murdered, she learns her true past and she takes up a dangerous mission for the underground that may signal eventual doom for the Gilead regime.

The three narratives weave together, converge and merge beautifully in yet another display of Atwood’s extraordinary talents. This sequel fully lives up to the much-honored Handmaid’s Tale and the final chapter, an account of a historian’s conference looking back decades later at these three testaments to an uncertain and chaotic past, ties everything together in a stirring, heartfelt and compelling manner. That last section even includes a sly aside, referring to the author of the original novel and her possible connection to these characters.

This is, indeed, a marvelous book and I humbly give it my highest recommendation.

 

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