The dangers of totalitarianism: Margaret Atwood’s new novel “The witnesses”


For your latest novel “The witnesses” returns Margaret Atwood back in the dictatorship of Gilead. However, Atwood’s dystopia, 34 years after the publication of “The Report of the maid”, even fiction?

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Margaret Atwood, “The Stuff Inside”











Margaret Atwood, “The Stuff Inside”

It is the literature Event of the year: last Tuesday, the carefully planned, midnight book launch of the second part of Margaret Atwood, “The Report of the maid” took place in the London Flagship Store of the bookshop Waterstones. A 79-year-old canadian author was, on this evening, the legendary nightlife of the British capital competition.

While the party-goers in the West End of the Bars, the Nightclubs, the queue in front of the famous bookshop in Piccadilly Circus up to the next street corner. The organizers hired Extra in the creepy maid costumes from the eponymous TV series, sneak around to the Fans. The visible excited to finally get your own copy of “The stuff inside” to hold in their hands.

The Queen of dystopia

Some have been waiting since three decades, how it goes with the characters in Atwood, fictional totalitarian state of Gilead more. Then, the Queen of dystopia appears to be highly personal: Margaret Atwood. In the crush she has trouble getting to the elaborate decoration over in the Store. They will read for the first Time from their new work.

On the way to totalitarianism

With nearly 80 years Margaret Atwood, personality still fills always easy to any room. No wonder, she has published in 50 years, just as many books in 40 languages. But rarely before they have been set in such a theatrical scene as this evening – the event is more like a Festival than a book launch, and the Fans are celebrating the canadian singer as a pop star.

In their typically sociable and humorous way Margaret Atwood seems larger than life, even though she is petite, almost fragile built. She also appears wise and resolute. At the same time their presence demands respect, as you would be a Survivor of Gilead, and somehow you is.

As “The Report of the maid” appeared in 1985, not everyone was thrilled by Atwood, gloomy vision of the future for women. Some critics perceived the Text as too far-fetched. Others asked, according to Atwood, “How much time do we have?”

Given the current discussions about women’s rights in the United States and elsewhere, companies may slide, according to Atwood, even today, at any time in a totalitarianism à la Gilead: “If you look at specific legislative proposals as are some US States almost as far,” said Atwood in a press conference at the British Library. “Were governments to be fair and just and really the consensus of the voters, then it is only potentially pregnant women should decide on these issues.”

Fact or fiction?

In view of the ongoing debate in the US about the self-determination rights of women in reproductive issues Atwood, the novel is the continuation comes at exactly the right time. At the book presentation, she says that the world of today, Gilead is more similar than 34 years ago, as “The Report of the maid” came out: “In the course of time we have moved more to Gilead than away from it,” says Atwood. “In 1985, some politicians have talked about what you would like to do, if they were in Power. Now you have it.”

Three Narrators, three perspectives

Despite the seemingly fine line between fact and fiction, there are some crucial differences between “The zoo story” and “The stuff inside”. The new novel takes place 15 years after the end of the first story and is told from the point of view of three women, the events in the brutal world of Gilead, in different ways and interpret it. She wanted to examine how different women react to a life in oppression, so Atwood.

“The story of the servant” was filmed in 1989 by Volker Schlöndorf

The narrative voices, the Atwood introduces, are a Turncoat, the escapes from Gilead to Canada, a young girl, known only to Gilead (and, therefore, their role for, of course, holds), as well as a character that the readers of “The Report of the maid” know well: aunt Lydia. The voice Desfreds, the hapless heroine from the first part, missing. Atwood is well aware that this could be a disappointment for many Fans, but it is your decision to approach the land of Gilead, from new angles.

“The readership consists of different individuals that have different opinions. Of course, the risk to disappoint the audience, but this is the risk I mentioned before, there is always,” says Atwood with regard to the mixed reviews, the “The zoo story” received at the time of its publication.

Of the wall 11. September

As Margaret Atwood, “The Report of the maid,” wrote, she lived in West Berlin, an enclave surrounded by the socialist GDR and the wall. In view of the divided city, she had wondered how a totalitarian state would look like in North America, she says. So the idea of the violent Patriarchy of Gilead was created. They based their narrative on existing and historical cases of oppression of Women. “For everything in this novel there is a real template. I didn’t want anything thick into it, what had not done, someone somewhere once before,” said Atwood once to the magazine “People”.

Elisabeth Moss in season 1 of the TV-series “The Handmaid’s Tale”

When the wall fell 30 years ago, there was in the West, the first dictatorial signs. “And then, in the nineties, all went shopping. (…) The globalization would sort it all out. Then it was ‘here’s the Internet, Hooray is coming!’ and here we are,” said Atwood told reporters during the presentation of the book. And she adds: “Then came September 11. September. The day changed everything. (…) Since we are fearful, self-centred and more vulnerable. At the time I started on the return to Gilead, to think.”

A modern dystopia

All the years after the fall of the Berlin wall is discussed – just in time for the release of “The stuff inside” – about a new wall along the American-Mexican border. Isolationism, protection, tariff policy and populism grab in the West to. The hopeful Moment after the end of the Cold war, acts today only as a historical side note. “Is the world of ‘The Report of the maid’ and ‘The stuff inside’ a dystopia? We hope’s!”, Atwood in London says – but in view of the future, you sound disillusioned here.

Margaret Atwood was awarded in 2017, with the peace prize of the German book trade

This new tone is also in your book felt. While in “The Report of the maid” still a hope for the end of theocracy and totalitarianism was palpable, focused on “The stuff inside” on the management of behaviour that various people need to develop in order to survive in this type of bondage.

Already the first lines in the book reflect this mood, however, they also bear a glimmer of hope for righteousness and salvation in himself. In view of the first movement of “The witnesses”, it is no Surprise that Margaret Atwood’s first literary love (and discipline) was the poetry: “Only the Dead are permitted to have monuments, but I have to get within the lifetime of a. Now I’m petrified.”

Margaret Atwood: The Stuff Inside. Roman. From the English by Monika Baark. Berlin Verlag, Berlin, 2019, 576 Pages.