Reexamining Mother’s Day with Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale

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Image copyright 2012 the Balbusso sisters. Reproduced with permission from the Folio Society.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                                      Motherhood takes on a whole new meaning in The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale of a fundamentalist theocracy. The award-winning bestseller was recently adapted into a television series airing on Hulu to much fanfare--to get up to speed, read Emily Nussbaum’s excellent analysis of the series and how the show’s creators adapted Atwood’s critique of Reagan-era sexual politics for a contemporary audience. The takeaway: it’s different, but rendered totally relevant to 2017, and a quick internet search yields all sorts of fascinating (if chilling) comparisons between the show, the state of feminism, the environment, and our current political climate. (Be on the lookout in episode one for a cameo by Atwood, who plays one of the women indoctrinating Offred, played by Elizabeth Moss.)


Before binge-watching the show, consider picking up the Folio Society’s 2012 edition of the book. Complete with a new introduction by the author, this incarnation includes illustrations by Italian sister-artists Anna and Elena Balbusso, whose painterly creations are often heavy with iconography and symbolism, and their work here is no different. “For a long time we hoped for a book like this [The Handmaid’s Tale] and we loved the challenge,” the Balbussos said. “The theme of a woman’s body appealed to our sensibility.” The sisters strike a decidedly futurist note with images full of bold, fascist-era strokes of red, white, and black.


Watch the show. Read the book. Discuss. If the whole enterprise starts to feel too grim, chin up: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”


Hulu streams new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Wednesdays. 

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The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, illustrated by the Balbusso sisters; Folio Society, $74.95, 366 pages. Image Courtesy of the Folio Society.

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