Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.
The Book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Booze: Red Wine. Any Red Wine.
Grab your red wine. Grab your red wine and hold it close, because there may be a day when all the simple pleasures in life are stripped from you. Every basic right you have—reading, writing, your own name—that you take for granted, can someday, in the not too distant future, be taken away. This is the fate that befalls the United States in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The distopian world left in its wake is that of the religious fundamentalist extreme. Women can no longer work or hold property, all carnal pleasures, such as sex, alcohol, and tobacco, are absolutely forbiddden, no one is allowed to read or write, money is no longer used, and an elaborate class system, distinguished by the color they wear, seperates those in power from those not even entitled a name. Our heroine, Offred, is the lowest of the low: a handmaid, who’s only purpose in life is to be a walking womb. Since no one’s allowed to have sex, someone has to be responsible for repopulation… other than old white men, of course. And because of her position, she is viewed as a whore and a savage, completely driven by physical appetite. It is amazing how the people of this new world have abandoned their sense of justice in order to selfishly protect themselves. But many, including Offred, remember their old lives and will try to reclaim it in their own ways.
Red is the color of the handmaids’ cloaks, the color that labels them a pariah, and red is the color of the wine you should savor while reading The Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t matter if it is a sweet pinot noir or a robust shiraz, if it’s been aged for centuries or a bottle of two-buck chuck you picked up at the supermarket this afternoon; it should be treated as a luxury no matter what. The handmaids go through their average day with only limited, pious interaction, but once in a blue moon, when one of them gives birth, they are allowed to congregate and speak freely among each other. Over a shared flask of wine, passed among the crowd, they can reminisce about the lost days and learn the whereabouts of missing friends and family. The wine is an important part of holding onto their identity.
Margaret Atwood’s novel is highly regarded as a feminist anthem, but it’s so much more than just that. It’s a beautifully written, and sometimes humorous, tale of perseverence, as well as a sobering reminder of what can eventually happen if we mix religion with politics and neglect the basic rights of all our citizens. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this book! I was so lucky that a friend read it around the same time I did, becuse all I wanted to do was discuss the fate of the characters, draw parallels to today’s society, and argue whether we could muster sympathy towards those who created this world. Everyone needs to read The Handmaid’s Tale in their lifetime.
So raise a glass and toast to to those protecting the rights of women, both in real life and in The Handmaid’s Tale.