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It often happens that a new film or TV series creates interest in an older book. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is such a case. Already made into a movie in 1990, it soon will be streaming on Hulu as an original series starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men), Joseph Fiennes, and Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), which has rocketed this 1986 dystopian novel back into popularity. Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, who serves in the household of the Commander and his wife in a time of severely declining birthrates. Offred’s value is her fertility, and if she fails to become pregnant by the Commander, she will be exiled to the dangerously polluted Colonies. The Handmaid’s Tale is full of so many women’s rights issues, which parallel many of the same issues in 2017. While you are waiting on a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, available in print and ebook, dive right in to one of these:
The Children of Men by P.D. James
This 1992 novel takes place in the year 2021 (4 years from now!), and no babies have been born since 1995. As in The Handmaid’s Tale, infertility threatens to end the human race, and when the world’s youngest person dies there seems little hope for the future. The breakdown of society includes rounding up immigrants into detention camps before deportation, euthanasia, and a brutal police state. P.D. James is best known for her mystery novels, but this dystopian tale of the future is a fabulous read. It is available in several formats, including the DVD of the 2006 movie starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.
Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall
This is another dystopian novel set in England, where people have been herded into urban centers, and reproductive rights are obtained only by lottery. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men, overpopulation is the issue, and the Authority can require the sterilization of any woman of childbearing age. “Sister” manages to break away from her repressive life, and flees to Carhullan to a group of women called “unofficials.”
Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
Elison's gripping first novel, winner of the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award, tells the story of an unnamed woman who survives a plague that wipes out most of humankind in just weeks, leaving 10 male survivors for every woman. Years after the initial wave of the terrible disease, all pregnancies still end in the death of the baby, and most also kill the mother. As men gain control, the nameless midwife sets out disguised as a man to free enslaved women from their captors. It’s a grim story of one woman’s emotional response to the direst of circumstances, and a real page-turner.