The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Published by Doubleday/ 415pp/ September 10, 2019

A trinity of a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. The framing device applied here is the drafting of a record. One of the Aunts is writing about the Republic of Gilead at her present. She hopes it will be discovered by a future generation. Supposedly after the fall of this decaying state.

You will not be following OfGlen anymore. Fifteen years have passed since the events of the previous book.

There are two transcripts simply labeled Transcript of Witness Testimony 369A and 369B. ‘A’ is the memory of a woman who lived in Gilead; ‘B’ is the memory of a woman who lived outside in Toronto, Canada. These are their “Testaments”.

The organization known as Mayday has been aiding women who have escaped the theocratic Republic of Gilead via the Underground Femaleroad.

The Pearl Girls are the missionaries of Gilead. Traveling in pairs they hand out brochures to would be subjects. They visit the Clothes Hound, a used clothing shop in Canada. The business is a suspected Mayday front.

The novel does a great job of balancing the witness testimony. The Aunts are the holder of Gilead’s secrets. The keys to the kingdom are guarded by their ability to vet new candidates to their order.

The latest political upheaval concerning the Republic is the removal of Baby Nicole. Her escape is considered the ultimate act of resistance to the new order.

Protest marches in Canada against Gilead are happening. The rituals of the Republic continue to trap more women. There are mass executions. The state of the republic is seen in the early goings to be solid.

Old tech is employed to smuggle out the awful happenings of Gilead to Canada. It is called Microdot. The following explains how it works:

“Documents are photographed with a miniature camera that reduces them to microscopic size. Then they are printed on minute plastic dots, which can be applied to almost any surface and read by the recipient with a custom viewer small enough to be concealed in, for instance, a pen…not for nothing we at Ardua Hall say ‘Pen Is Envy.’”

The theocratic regime’s obsession with this escaped female baby becomes their achilles heel. Fanatics become blind to the contradiction of their deep held beliefs; murder is a tool to cement their foundation.

After the escape, Gilead closed down routes in Upstate New York. Mayday intends to send the now grown-up baby Nicole into the Republic; make public the secrets underpinning their system.

Founder Aunt Lydia is the vessel holding the regime’s best kept secrets. Her testament will undo their slave-like society. How she became indoctrinated is part of her testimony.

The Republic of Gilead was founded by four women selected by male commanders—Lydia, Elizabeth, Vidala, and Helena. In their former lives they were lawyers, judges, and real estate agents.

The geo politics are explained to Baby Nicole. The Republic of Texas went to war with Gilead resulting in a draw. The neutrality meant there would be no hostilities expressed in the future.

Their ability to keep order, secrets, and deliver punishment made them ideal candidates. They chose Aunthood to escape the certainty of death by firing squad.

Aunt Lydia’s statue sits in front of Ardua Hall, the residency of their order. Their status allows them to read and write. They have full access to the ‘Genealogical Bloodline Archives’.

Aunt Lydia spares Nicole’s life; the order of the Aunts becomes her calling. We learn of their indoctrination. There is a rulebook; chores; prayers.

To be matchmakers for the Republic they must know by blood the best possible outcomes. Unknown to the outside, suicide was becoming a crisis for Gilead. A young girl called Becka attempts to end her life rather than marry Commander Kyle.

Another would be bride, Agnes opposes Commander Judd, a Son of Jacob. Aunt Lydia becomes their lifeline. However, the other Aunt founders are not happy with this situation. The challenge to Lydia’s authority is part of the decay within Gilead.

Aunt Lydia’s admiration for Nicole is best summed up by her opinion—“The ability to concoct plausible lies is a talent not to be underestimated.”

While this happens on the inside, Baby Nicole will be escorted back inside; now to be known as Jade. She has undergone training by Mayday to become accepted by the Pearl Girls. The final touch of sin is a tattoo.

Once inside she insinuates herself into the order. The training will take years to complete. Both Jade and Becka become ‘supplicants’; newly named: Victoria and Immortelle.

The rituals of Gilead grind slowly forth. The wheels of righteousness sometimes roll over the foot of a true believer. There are chess like moves being made all the time.

Within the walls of Ardua Hall Aunts in training will share the secrets of their former lives. This adds another layer to the story. New knowledge; a crack in the edifice of faith.

Once I had passed my six-month exam and had been accepted as a Supplicant, I was allowed into the Hildegard Library. It’s hard to describe the feeling this gave me. The first time I passed through its doors, I felt as if a golden key had been given to me—a key that would unlock one secret door after another, revealing to me the riches that lay within.”

The devil is in the details. Gilead is based upon lies; untruths. There have been betrayals in the ranks. Commanders have violated the rules time and again. What would Jade, now Aunt Victoria, do with this new information?

Throughout the book the perverse culture of Gilead is spoken about for readers who may have skipped “The Handmaid’s Tale”. A smart writer pens a sequel that can stand on its own. This story does just that without being too simple.

The speculative nature of this fiction is reinforced with an imagined ‘Thirteenth Symposium’ following the conclusion. An academic gathering 70 plus years later; history is only as accurate as it is recorded.

Just speculating, but this may not be the final word on Gilead or The Handmaids.

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