The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: A review
I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this book. I think it had something to do with my reaction to the television show based on The Handmaid's Tale. I watched the first season and found it interesting enough, but then as the second season veered away from the book, I couldn't take it anymore and I stopped watching. Thus, my mind just wasn't ready for a sequel to the book, especially if it was going to be anything like the television show. But finally, I guess curiosity got the better of me, so here we are.
The Testaments comprises the statements or testimony of three women: Aunt Lydia; a young woman called Agnes Jemima who grew up in the nightmarish misogynistic authoritarian state of Gilead; and another young woman who was born in Gilead but whose mother managed to smuggle her out of the country and into Canada where she has been raised. We eventually learn about the connections between these three women.
Aunt Lydia's testament is in the form of a memoir that she wrote and concealed for many years. It is essentially a mea culpa explaining how she, in fact, came to be "Aunt Lydia," the forces that made her who she is.
Agnes Jemima tells of how she was raised by a Commander and his wife, whom she believed to be her parents. It was only after the wife died that she learned that she had been stolen from her birth mother when that woman was forced to become a Handmaid.
The girl raised in Canada likewise was raised by a couple whom she thought were her parents. But then the couple, who had been active in a resistance organization called Mayday that operated a kind of Underground Railroad to help women escape Gilead and resettle in Canada, were killed by a car bomb detonated by Gilead agents and the girl learned that she, too, was the daughter of a Handmaid who had contrived to get her to Canada when she was only a baby. For all the years since Gilead has been searching for her. She is known to them as "Baby Nicole," their lost child.
The Testaments is constructed as a thriller. The Resistance is hard at work in its efforts to bring down the state of Gilead, which comprises most of what used to be the United States. (The Republic of Texas has separated itself and the West Coast continues to resist.) They are aided by Mayday and also by a traitor within the state. This traitor acts as a spy and passes along information to Mayday. We suspect early on who that spy may be, but it isn't confirmed until well into the narrative.
Atwood tells her story with very broad brush strokes. The narrative is very accessible, witty, and well-paced. It is a feminist document without being the hard work that such documents sometimes are and it has the potential to appeal to readers who might ordinarily balk at the idea of reading a feminist book. It is a straightforward and thoroughly satisfying tale of how women manage to bring down the patriarchy. It was a welcome pick-me-up from the gloom of the daily news and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars