Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Published: 1985

I am going to acknowledge that I haven’t been reading as many Canadian novels as I should be really, but I blame living on another continent for that! I actually came across Hulu’s TV series of the Handmaid’s Tale on the plane that reminded me of this book and convinced me to read this a second time. I watched the first episode and was so hooked that when I got home I immediately had to re-read it!

Yes that’s right I have already read this book, but it was a little while ago now, when I was in university studying English Literature. I remember at the time that I enjoyed the book, but it hadn’t stood out for me a lot. Thinking back, I think this might have been because the course/module was all about dystopian novels so the theme got a little repetitive and I read it on the back of one of my favourite books of all time, Don DeLillo’s White Noise so maybe that’s why it didn’t stick with me.

However this time around, I couldn’t put the book down. It was such a haunting book – primarily because I could imagine the themes dealt in it happening in the real world. Any dystopian novel that gives me the creeps because it feels plausible deserves 4 stars!

We journey through the novel through Offred’s narration. To me it feels like an interview, with her sitting across from me re-telling me her life story, often skipping to moments before the totalitarian and theocratic state took over the United States to highlight and help us understand how we even got there. What we learn, is that the country is experiencing dangerously low reproduction rates due to pollution and chemical spills.  A political coup takes over whose solution to this issue is to restrict women’s freedoms, where women cannot own property or have jobs. They forcefully indoctrinate fertile women, to be subservient to men and to focus their entire lives around producing children. Once they graduate from the Red centre, the women then become Handmaids and are placed in the homes of the elite that are struggling to produce offspring. Offred sole purpose in life now becomes to perform wordless, emotionless sexual intercourse with the commander of the house once a month in an attempt to produce them a child that she will then never see again.

I found this theme of restricting women’s freedoms especially poignant in todays society, given the media rise and attention to inequality in the modern world today. It’s a little scary reading this book alongside the #metoo movement and media’s slow reveal of the constant and current gender inequality in the workforce, as it highlights are own imperfections and issues. Of course, the book is playing on an extreme, but you can’t help but see how easily it could happen should the political and economic atmosphere changes rapidly, especially if people in todays world demonstrates some of that sort of behaviour and beliefs.

 

Q: Which dystopian novel most resonates with you? I’d love to understand why!

 

 

Book Review: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

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Published: 2015

 

I must confess, I was not really expecting this book, Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance, to be so engaging and fascinating when I first got my hands on it. I had seen that it got rated high on Amazon, from where I purchased it, but to be honest I only take those ratings with a pinch of salt as most things average out to be 4 stars anyway. I also don’t have the best experience with biographies, as I often find they are written in a bit of tedious manner – reporting facts as opposed to making it engaging. That’s sort of what I thought about the biography I read on Queen Elizabeth the II, by Andrew Marr, for which I never bothered to even write a review.

I didn’t know very much about Elon Musk before reading this book about his life and visions. All I knew is that he founded Tesla and SpaceX and was somehow revolutionising how we view space exploration/travel, with him selling seats to the first human shuttle into space. What I found out after reading this book is that he is a genius and a revolutionary. Everything he does isn’t really about the money (he’s invested a lot of his own money in all his companies and is happy to sell them off to work on his visions of the future), but rather about exploring and pushing our human boundaries. For him, there are no boundaries. He’s a powerful force of will power and vision, that our planet needs.

“In July 2002, Musk was gripped by excitement of this daring enterprise, and eBay made it’s aggressive move to buy PayPal for $1.5 billion. This deal gave Musk some liquidity and supplied him with more than $100 million to throw at SpaceX.” (116)

I was completely taken aback by the entire biography. His life is so fascinating, and he’s such an interesting human being. His quirky personality is highlighted throughout his upbringing so you get a better understanding of who he is a person, a visionary and explorer. He’s also got an incredible work ethic. That’s the reason why he’s got as far as he had, no lucky streaks, wealthy parents or being at the right place at the right time. It’s the his own discipline and drive, that he continues to have despite all his successes, that has allowed him to get where he is. That’s why I find him so inspirational.

“He saw a man who arrived in the United States with nothing, who had lost a child, who was being pilloried in the press by reporters and his ex-wife and who verged on having his life’s work destroyed. ‘He has the ability to work harder and endure more stress that anyone I’ve ever met,’ Gracias said.” (211)

This is not to say that he’s a perfect human being. What I love about this biography, is that it doesn’t try to sugar coat things about the man featured on it’s front cover. Although it highlights how Elon Musk is doing some extraordinary, and inspiring things, it also highlights his downfalls (we all have them, even the greatest people!). Instead of making up excuses for him, the author isn’t afraid to point out that it is just how he is. I realised that although Elon is a amazing visionary, he’s a terrible people-person. He fires people left, right and centre, often for quite trivial reasons. You can see in the videos or interviews with him, that he’s quite socially awkward. But then again, he’s not trying to become a socialite. He’s got other priorities.

The author sections the book according to Elon Musk’s milestones in his life and big ventures, rather than being written in a purely chronological way. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the author’s engaging way of storytelling, by skipping around the timeline a little bit, or if it’s just fascinating to read about Elon Musk’s life. Either way it works, and I kid you not, I could not book this book down once I started reading it. Knowing that this is about a real person, there were many sections of the book that left me speechless. I would often run upstairs to tell my boyfriend about what I just read, or what Elon has accomplished. I cleared my entire day and finished the book in 24 hours.

 

Q: Have you recently read a very good biography? Please do share in the comment section below!