‘The Testaments’ Review

Ana Peres Bogo, Writer

After 34 years, Margaret Atwood answers the many questions left by one of her most famous books, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in her newest work. “The Testaments,” recently released on Sept. 10, is a page-turning story set 15 years after the ending of the first book. With a (somewhat) more hopeful message in the form of the anti-Gilead organization Mayday, Atwood takes the reader back inside the authoritarian walls. 

The Testaments

The story is set in a dystopian future where the United States of America became the Republic of Gilead. In this society, the people are divided into categories based on gender, race and class. If you praise a greater being that is not the approved Gilead government God, you either disappear, are resettled or simply exiled. It is not difficult to see where Atwood is pulling inspiration from, and in a 2017 interview with Sojourners Magazine Atwood confirmed that her book was based on what she felt was a plausible “purportedly Christian” alternate future for America. 

The book has a different structure than the first installment. Instead of reading the testimony of one character in this one, three women tell the story in segments. Each character has a chapter and sections to themselves, resulting in a rapid pacing throughout the many narratives. 

A few iconic characters that we already know are brought back, such as the bloodthirsty Aunt Lydia. The reader also gets to know Daisy, an angsty teenager who lives in Canada, and Agnes, a privileged girl born and raised in Gilead. 

The three characters are uniquely compelling because they come from extremely different lives and viewpoints. Daisy is rebellious, while Agnes is extremely confused and becomes more depressed throughout the narrative. Aunt Lydia is a mystery; until the last pages it is very hard to know which side she is on. The various backgrounds give the reader a broader sense of the world in which the story is set.

Atwood’s ability to humanize long-hated characters is amazing. Through flashbacks, we meet a very different Aunt Lydia. Just like Offred, the main character of the prequel, she is a survivor. She was chosen to be an Aunt, an important authoritarian figure on female morality and faced dire consequences if she didn’t comply.  

There is hope, in the form of an organization. Mayday is an organization set in Canada that wants to end the Gilead regime. It is only briefly mentioned in the first book, and Offred does not know if it is even real. Daisy leads the reader inside the organization, revealing how they get information to and from Gilead, the way their operations work and the type of people that are part of it. 

As always, Atwood tackles different types of violence women experience every day. A sexual assault in a doctor´s appointment, what happens when you report the assault, the value of women being dependent on their ability to have children and the imposing desire of men that dictates the clothes women wear are just a few situations that Atwood brings into the narrative.  

In “The Testaments,” Atwood delves even deeper into the social procedures of Gilead. The process of choosing a husband, how to become an Aunt and how the people in power maintain their status regardless of their horrible actions are all explored in detail. For example, a figure that is equal to a president in Gilead kills his extremely young wives and maintains his position.   

Atwood brings back this fascinating world with twists that continue to surprise. Humanizing well-known characters and demonizing others, she reveals the human side of even the most horrible characters. In one of her best books yet, she creates a thriller that is so appealing that it is impossible to put it down.