I remember reading The Handmaid’s Tale more than 3 years ago. While I enjoyed reading the book and the overall dystopian world, I was not utterly impressed (here’s the review I wrote at that time).
However, I was interested in reading The Testaments, to see how could Atwood continue the saga in Gilead after almost 35 years since writing The Handmaid’s Tale? I was not even born when The Handmaid’s Tale was written 🙂
The Testaments in a nutshell
So we’re back in Gilead, the totalitarian country where The Handmaid’s Tale story takes place. Nothing seems to have changed since our last journey there – Commanders are the rulers, Handmaids are passed from one house to another to give birth, praise be, and Marthas cook and take care of the house.
This time, through The Testaments, we meet three women, each with a different background and different beliefs. Two of them from Gilead, one from Canada. One of them is an Aunt. A very important Aunt. It’s already getting interesting, isn’t it? Let’s say that there’s a deeper reason for why things happen, and there’s always the OTHER SIDE of the story.
I enjoyed so much reading The Testaments, I read the 400+ pages in just 4 days (that’s a very short time by my reading standards)! I was hooked on from the very first page to the last, as the story is built in a way that there’s always something to look for in the next chapter.
Compared to reading The Handmaid’s Tale, when I struggled to follow the fragmented storyline, this time I actually enjoyed the different perspectives. I also think the structure itself was more clear and the story was faster-paced.
How is The Testaments different from The Handmaid’s Tale?
The Testaments is a sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale. Both books take place in the same dystopian country, Gilead, and some characters appear in both stories. However, they’re not traditional sequels, where you have the same main character continuing the adventure – they’re rather connected stories happening in the same universe. From this point of view, it reminds me of my favourite series The Cemetery of Forgotten Books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
It was very interesting that Atwood chose to present the backstory of a woman that had another role in Gilead. While The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on the Handmaid role, The Testaments focuses on the Aunt role.
I think you can read The Testaments without reading The Handmaid’s Tale first. However, it makes sense to read The Handmaid’s Tale first, to get a better introduction to Gilead and its inner workings.
When you find out Atwood was inspired by a newspaper article from your country …
At the end of the book I read there was a Q&A with Atwood on the real-life events that inspired her two Gilead books. The interview was taken during a visit to the University of Toronto, where The Handmaid’s Tale archives are kept – boxes with newspaper clippings, ideas and materials collected for inspiration.
There, Atwood had as newspaper article about something that happened in Romania, during communism – Ceausescu, the communist leader, passed laws that said women had to have 4 babies. They had to have pregnancy tests every month and, in case they were not pregnant, to explain why. Abortions were forbidden, except if the woman was over 40 or if she already had 4 children.
While I was aware of these events, I did not connect them with Atwood’s stories … until now. It was quite disturbing to see so transparently that the communist period from Romania was part of the inspiration sources for The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments.
Needless to say, I recommend The Testaments with all my heart. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, then The Testaments is definitely a must-read. And if you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, maybe it is time to read both books and see for yourself how Atwood build a frightening world using puzzle pieces collected from the reality around us.
Have your read any of the two stories from Gilead? Which one did you enjoy more?
‘Till next time … happy reading!