Tuesday, March 14, 2006

When Handmaids live amongst us

I just finished re-reading "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood for a science fiction class I'm taking. Atwood presents a new vision of dystopia, of a closed, totalitarian society that is cut off from the rest of the world, one in which women are considered "baby-makers." The things that go on seem unimaginable, and yet, I found this novel the very frightening of all because it seemed so anchored in today’s world. The references to Islamic terrorists, the taking away of rights due to a lockdown for safety and security, and the religious aspects of the novel make for something that is horrifyingly real.

Reading this after the Chanrithy Him’s memoir “When Broken Glass Floats: Growing up Under the Khmer Rouge” (which is excellent by the way) I found the fear, the lying, risks of betrayals, and all-seeing spies, the sumptuous violations for people in charge to be very similar. Although there are definitely aspects of "The Handmaid's Tale" that are unique, I found myself thinking about North Korea. In particular, North Korea and Gilead (the society in Atwood's book) are similar in that both are closed societies. We don’t know much about North Korea, except for the few straggling refugees in China, and occasional academics and humanitarian groups that lament their situation, much like the "Historical Footnote" at the end of "The Handmaid's Tale."

It's amazing what types of societies can exist parallel to ours, ones that we have little inkling about, and yet which influence each other in remarkable ways.


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