A Sequel That Won't Disappoint
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
I am lucky enough to live in a town with an amazing 5-star library. It was built right after I moved to town and over the years I have spent many days wandering through the stacks looking for new and amazing books. Back in the early days, I was often accompanied by a baby in a bucket car seat, usually sleeping, lulled by the quiet energy of the library. The library induces a calmness in all of us. To this day, when I enter the library, a feeling of peace and calm overtakes me. I think my children feel the same, which is why we go to the library at least once or twice a week. Not just for books but for sanity.
For much of this past fall, I would walk into our library, say hello to the librarians at The Welcome Desk, and most weeks I would notice a copy of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood propped up on the counter. The most popular books are usually displayed on The Welcome Desk with a sign that says something like “Lucky You – Look What Just Came In”. I ignored this book for weeks, and yet I felt that the book was pleading with me to read it. But still, I had absolutely no desire.
Don't get me wrong, I loved The Handmaid's Tale. In fact, I reread The Handmaid's Tale a couple of years ago in anticipation of the series on Netflix but then never watched it. The first book was so good and so sacred that I couldn't imagine a sequel 35 years later being as good or better than the original.
Well, I am here to tell you I was very wrong about this. This sequel was perfect. The Testaments takes place fifteen years after the end of The Handmaids Tale. Fifteen years later the Republic of Gilead still exists but is starting to show cracks in the foundation. Knowing this, the leaders are becoming nervous and paranoid. This is exactly when The Testaments unfolds.
For those of you who did read The Handmaid’s Tale, there are characters that you will recognize from the first book. For those of you who never read The Handmaid's Tale, you can absolutely read without having read the first book. With the help of my Quick Reference Guide at the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of the people who make up the Republic of Gilead and you will be able to fall right into this wonderful story.
The novel is narrated from the point-of-view of three different characters. Agnes Jemima, a young girl who has been born and raised in Gilead. Aunt Lydia, a high-ranking Aunt who was a villain in the first book. Aunts are responsible for the training and education of the Handmaids and Wives as well as the births and education of all young girls in Gilead from high ranking families. The third main character is Daisy, a 16-year-old girl who lives with her suspiciously overprotective parents in Canada.
The stories of these three women are connected and with their different narrations you slowly learn the story of Gilead’s formation, the structure of the Gilead Society, and the overwhelming problems with this social structure. Gilead is all of our worst nightmares, yet this story will captivate you and you will want to keep reading.
So, my readers who know nothing about The Handmaid’s Tale, you may be asking, “What in the hell is the Republic of Gilead?” Gilead is a dystopian society that was formed primarily by men after the destruction of the United States. The men are very religious to the point of being fundamentalists. The Republic is almost entirely controlled by the men with a little help from the Aunts. The Aunts are single women, similar to nuns, who have a higher calling in life and do not birth children. They are educators and are allowed to read and write, which gives them some power. Women have virtually no role in this society except to reproduce and to be entirely subservient to men. If they are infertile, a Handmaid is brought in to do the job. This sounds like a man’s dream come true! It also may sound like something you have absolutely no interest in reading, but give it a chance. If you’re like me, your 2020 resolution should be to try to read books that you may not otherwise be interested in. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
I think what makes this book so fascinating is the narration of three different young women who all have different backgrounds and perspectives but who all come to be connected in the end. Through their stories, you will come to understand their secrets and have a higher level of understanding of Gilead. Enjoy this sequel – it’s a good one. I hope you get all the answers you’re looking for.
Quick Reference Guide for The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments
AUNT – Unmarried women, allowed to be educated, Oversee the training and education of the Handmaids and all girls of high-ranking families. Also, recruiters of Pearl Girls.
COMMANDER – Most powerful class of men in Gilead. Married to wives and the only rank that can have Handmaids.
DYSTOPIA - A community or society that is undesirable or frightening
ECONOWIFE – Lowest ranking members of Gilead
HANDMAID - A female Servant whose purpose in Gilead is to reproduce for married couples (of high-ranking couples) who can’t have children
MARTHAS - Servants or housekeepers for high-ranking families
OFFRED – The narrator from the first book who is a Handmaid. She is a fertile woman forced to bear children for the highest-ranking couples in Gilead. She was part of the world before the destruction of the US and while you don’t know much about this time, you now that she was married and had a child. She disappears at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale and is pregnant.
PEARL GIRLS – A sub-class of Aunts. They are young women looking to become Aunts but sent out as Missionaries to help recruit more members to Gilead. They wear silver dresses, white hats, and fake pearls – hence the name.
WIFE – Married to the Commanders or other high-ranking officials. Being a wife is a high honor in Gilead although they are illiterate and only educated for the servitude of men.
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday