THE HANDMAID’S TALE
By Margaret Atwood
Audible Studios. Unabridged, 12 ¼ hours
Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985) has never been out of print, has spawned many translations and productions, and has been available for years in Claire Danes’s Audie Award-winning performance. But now, our own uneasy times have lent the novel added relevance, bringing a TV series (in which Atwood makes a cameo appearance) and an expanded edition of the audiobook. Added to Danes’s celebrated narration is an afterword by Atwood, explaining in her quiet, sane voice the book’s origins, inspiration and bearing on the current political and social climate. The novel purports to be a transcript of secret testimony recorded over old music cassettes by Offred, a “handmaid” condemned to be a “womb on two legs” in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, the former United States. This new production intersperses snatches of the original music over which Offred recorded her tale. And the book itself has grown here beyond its former last line, that uttered by Professor Pieixoto, lecturing in 2195 at a symposium on the now extinct Gilead: “Are there any questions?” There are! Members of his audience, a multi-voiced assemblage, would like to know everything from where the tapes were found to how safe they may consider themselves from another such tyrannical regime. The audiobook is further enhanced by a fine concluding essay by Valerie Martin read by Allyson Johnson. This highly pertinent, ingeniously conceived production deepens the original work and even surpasses it.
By Lissa Evans
HarperAudio. Unabridged, 12 ¾ hours
“Their Finest” — the basis of the new movie starring Gemma Arterton — opens in 1940 as Britain’s Ministry of Information gears up its Film Division to produce wartime propaganda. The wry, semi-sweet tale follows the making of a movie inspired by — though not at all true to — the actions of twin sisters in evacuating British troops from Dunkirk. The points of view of three characters dominate: Catrin, a young Welshwoman who has fallen into the role of scriptwriter, much to the entertainingly obtuse disbelief of the male-dominated film crew and cast; Ambrose, a conceited, former lead, now gallingly reduced to character roles; and Edith, a thirty-something costume seamstress for Madame Tussauds, consigned by the world to spinsterhood. (We’ll just see about that.) The characters come from all over, and narrator Peter Wickham manages a handy approximation of their accents, while bringing a clipped and proper English delivery to general narration, perfectly realizing Evans’s deadly eye for feminine one-upmanship, male posturing and, most rewardingly, Ambrose’s continual sense of affront. Wickham also conveys the dismay and terror of those enduring the Blitz, “the distant crumps that would suddenly move nearer, as if a Titan were striding across London.”
By Min Jin Lee
Hachette Audio. Unabridged, 18 ¼ hours
Min Jin Lee’s second novel is a culturally rich, psychologically astute family saga. It begins in Korea in 1910, the year of Japanese annexation, and ends four generations later in Japan. Sunja is the only child of a Korean fisherman and his wife, who keeps a small boarding house. Hardworking and innocent, Sunja becomes pregnant at 16 by Hansu, a married businessman. She is saved from disgrace by a young Korean Presbyterian minister who marries her out of goodness. The couple immigrate to Japan, where Koreans are a despised underclass, and the story expands to follow Sunja and her husband, their children and others, including the Godfather-like Hansu, who operates behind the scenes with an eye on his natural son. Allison Hiroto reads this moving novel in a sweet, compassionate voice. Without changing register for male characters, she has a storyteller’s gift of distinguishing between speakers through modulations of tone and disposition. Further, her voice has great emotional range, capturing the fluctuations of joy, sorrow, anger, shame and hope in the hearts of these people as they wrestle with notions of home and the corrosive effects of bigotry.
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.