Testaments (Atwood)

The Testaments 
Margaret Atwood, 2019
Knopf Doubleday
432 pp.

The Testaments is a modern masterpiece, a powerful novel that can be read on its own or as a companion to Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaid’s Tale.

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid's Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within.

At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia. Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways.
With The Testaments, Margaret Atwood opens up the innermost workings of Gilead, as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.
 (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—November 18, 1939
Where—Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Education—B.A., University of Toronto; M.A. Radcliffe; Ph.D., Harvard University
Awards—Booker Prize (more below)
Currently—lives in Toronto, Canada

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in more than forty-five countries, is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels.

In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, now an award-winning TV series, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; The MaddAddam Trilogy; The Heart Goes Last; and Hag-Seed.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. In 2019, she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
[A] compelling sequel…. It’s a contrived and heavily stage-managed premise—but… Atwood’s sheer assurance as a storyteller makes for a fast, immersive narrative that’s as propulsive as it is melodramatic.… The Testaments… is less an expose of the hellscape [of] Gilead than a young girl’s chronicle…. Atwood seems to be suggesting [that rebels] do not require a heroine with the visionary gifts of Joan of Arc, or the ninja skills of a Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander—there are other ways of defying tyranny… or helping ensure the truth of the historical record.
Michiko Kakutani -  New York Times

[A]an entirely different novel in form and tone. Inevitably, the details are less shocking… [and] not nearly the devastating satire of political and theological misogyny that The Handmaid’s Tale is. In this new novel, Atwood is far more focused on creating a brisk thriller than she is on exploring the perversity of systemic repression.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

[Atwood} is interested not in how people become degraded, as objects…, but how they became morally compromised…. The first book was good on the envy between women, when they have no power; The Testaments looks at collaboration—another vice of the oppressed…. The Testaments is Atwood at her best, in its mixture of generosity, insight and control. The prose is adroit, direct, beautifully turned.
Anne Engright - Guardian (UK)

Margaret Atwood’s powers are on full display…. Illicit sex, of course, in this republic founded on sexual control, leads to the complicated, fascinating plot of The Testaments…. Atwood’s braided storyline leads to the best parts of the novel, the conversations between girls and women…. Everyone should read The Testaments and consider the true desires of human nature.
Los Angeles Times

orthy of the literary classic it continues. That’s thanks in part to Atwood’s capacity to surprise, even writing in a universe we think we know so well.
USA Today

[A] plot-driven page turner… [though] this Gilead isn't—and can't possibly be—as fresh and mind-blowing as it was to readers in 1985, but… [it] continue[s] to surprise us…. Testaments is more than 400 pages, but [it is] fast and even thrilling…. The joy of the book isn't in the plot twists but in seeing these women hammer away at the foundations of Gilead

(Starred review) Atwood's confident, magnetic sequel to The Handmaid's Tale… does not dwell on the franchise or current politics. Instead, she explores favorite themes of sisterhood, options for the disempowered, and freedom's irresistible draw. [E]minently rewarding sequel.
Publishers Weekly

Whatever happened to Offred after the close of Atwood's iconic The Handmaid's Tale? In this talk-of-the-town sequel, we find out. Taking place 15 years later, the narrative is shaped by the testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.
Library Journal

[W]hat Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can.… It's hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid's Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Clothes play a dual role in the novel. They signal life stages as well as status and class: the pink, white, and plum dresses worn by "special girls"; the drab prison-like stripes of the Econofamilies; and the green dresses of the betrothed girls. Did this aspect of the novel strike you as odd? Or is it actually not very different from our own obsession with brands and logos that convey a certain level of wealth and status?

2. Aunt Lydia tells us that Gilead actually has "an embarrassingly high emigration rate." Can those who manage to leave Gilead ever truly "escape"?

3. Daisy/Jade is, to say the least, a reluctant revolutionary. But if you were her age and were asked to absorb all of the shocking information she has to process in a very short period of time, would you have reacted any differently?

4. After Agnes is assaulted, she recalls other girls who reported such incidents having been told that "nice girls did not notice the minor antics of men, they simply looked the other way," which is a troubling parallel between Gilead and reality. Do you think there will ever come a time when women will feel unashamed to speak out when they are sexually assaulted? Or has this time already arrived in the age of #MeToo?

5. When Aunt Lydia dons the garb of the female stadium shooters, she says, "I felt a chill. I put it on. What else should I have done?" What would you have done?

6. Agnes’s interpretation of "Dick and Jane" showcases Margaret Atwood’s trademark wit, but there is more to it than that. Discuss the ways in which the author cleverly builds the sense of suspicion and fear that informs the way Agnes processes the events in her life at Ardua Hall.

7. Several references are made to shortages of basic necessities such as food and electricity. Birth defects and juvenile cancer also seem to plague Gilead. What do you think has caused this? Possibly environmental issues? Or the ongoing war?

8. Agnes considers her admittance to Hildegard Library to be a "golden key" that will reveal "the riches that lay within." But it is here that she learns the truth about the Concubine Cut into Twelve Pieces, as well as the truth about her half-sister. Is there any book that provided you with a similar pivotal and eye-opening experience?

9. When Aunt Lydia relays the Aesop’s Fables story of Fox and Cat, she reveals much about her survival skills. Which are you—Fox or Cat?

10. Did the book inspire you to take action so that Gilead remains fiction? Did you perhaps become more active in local politics or make a charitable donation to an organization that supports women’s rights?

11. The conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale left readers with many tantalizing questions. Which of your questions were answered by The Testaments? Which were not?

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

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