In a note to readers, Atwood wrote, “Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”
“The Testaments” will be published on Sept. 10, 2019, with a massive first printing of 500,000 copies.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” has sold 8 million copies in English since it was first published in 1985.
Atwood’s depiction of a violently misogynist society has resonated with a new generation of readers since the election of Donald Trump and the TV adaptation of the novel, which began airing in 2017. (A third season of the TV show, starring Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes, is currently in production.) For the past two years, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has frequently appeared on the paperback bestseller list, and the red-robed women of the novel and series have become common avatars of feminist protest during the Trump era. Abortion rights activists dressed in red cloaks and white bonnets have marched in Washington and in state capitol buildings around the country.
Last year, in an essay for the New York Times, Atwood recalled how she wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” by hand in West Berlin. “Back in 1984, the main premise seemed — even to me — fairly outrageous.” Having never written anything like it, she felt the story was a risky project. “The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real. One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the ‘nightmare’ of history, nor any technology not already available.”
Since “The Handmaid’s Tale” was published, Atwood has become a kind of grandmother to younger feminist critics and novelists. In recent years, her book has inspired other dystopias such as Naomi Alderman’s “The Power,” in which women develop the ability to electrocute men with their hands, and Leni Zumas’s “Red Clocks,” which imagines a future version of the United States in which abortion is completely outlawed. Zumas has said that she drew the most frightening details of her story from “actual proposals” by men currently serving in government.
Although “The Handmaid’s Tale,” George Orwell’s “1984” and other classic dystopias have continued to sell very well in the Trump era, modern novels haven’t broken through to capture the public’s imagination in the same way.
Atwood, 79, won the Booker Prize in 2000 for “The Blind Assassin.” She has maintained an active publishing career and a popular presence on social media. Her Twitter account has almost 2 million followers. Her science fiction series the MaddAddam Trilogy (2003-2013) has helped cement her reputation as one of the leading speculative fiction writers in the world.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.