I’ve been wanting to read this follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale since it was published in 2019, but I couldn’t bring myself to read about a religious fundamentalist theocratic regime until we had a new President who actually respects women and feels that they deserve the same power, voice, and place in society as men. When The Handmaid’s Tale was published 35 years ago, most of us viewed it as dystopian/far-fetched fiction. But today? It’s nothing to brush aside. We know there are people out there who’d love a society in which women make babies and food but not decisions or contributions.
The Testaments is set 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale leaves off, and the narrator is not Offred but rather three very different women: two in Gilead and one in Canada. Agnes grows up in Gilead as the daughter of an important Commander and a dying mother, Daisy is an anti-Gilead teenager who lives in Canada and is an activist to the extent she’s allowed to be, and Aunt Lydia, a character from The Handmaid’s Tale, reappears in a starring role in this sequel. Written as witness testimony, their stories are independent of each other until they braid together, becoming one story with one cause and a message of hope. This book lacks the shock factor of The Handmaid’s Tale only in that we’ve seen the possibility, we know the possibility, we’ve seen those who would choose to create a Theocracy that oppresses women. But it doesn’t lack the suspense. Atwood keeps us hooked as we come to know each of these three women and their struggles to survive–and possibly thrive, though that can only be done outside of Gilead.