The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

the-handmaids-tale

The regime created an instant pool of [women recruited for reproductive purposes] by the simple tactic of declaring all second marriages and non marital liaisons adulterous, arresting the female partners, and, on the grounds that they were morally unfit, confiscating the children they already had, who were adopted by childless couples of the upper echelons who were eager for progeny by any means. . . . [A] desirable characteristic in an age of plummeting Caucasian birthrates, a phenomenon observable not only in Gilead but in most northern Caucasian societies of the time.

“The U.S. Fertility Rate Just Hit A Historic Low.” Washington Post, June 30, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/06/30/the-u-s-fertility-rate-just-hit-a-historic-low-why-some-demographers-are-freaking-out/?utm_term=.795cce4c6660

Stillbirths, miscarriages, and genetic deformation were widespread and on the increase, and this trend has been linked to the various nuclear-plant accidents, shutdowns, and incidents of sabotage that characterized the period as well as to leakages from chemical- and biological-warfare stockpiles and toxic waste disposal sites, of which there were many thousands, both legal and illegal — in some instances these materials were simply dumped into the sewage system — and to the uncontrolled use of chemical insecticides, herbicides, and other sprays.

“In the United States, there are more than 20,000 stillbirths each year, a rate worse than that of many other countries.” Washington Post, May 16, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/05/16/stillbirth-is-more-common-than-you-think-and-were-doing-little-about-it/?utm_term=.ce53713b1d21

“RadiationfromFukushima nuclear power plant meltdown triggers genetic mutations.” The Daily Mail, August 13, 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2188017/Radiation-Fukushima-nuclear-power-plant-meltdown-triggers-genetic-mutations-butterflies.html

“Report Confirms Use of Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack.” The Atlantic, June 30, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/06/report-confirms-use-of-chemical-weapons-in-syrian-attack/532458/

“The EPA is Beginning to Roll Back An Obama-era Rule Limiting How Much Toxic Waste Power Plants Release in Water,” BuzzFeed, August 14, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/zahrahirji/trump-targets-strict-limits-on-power-plant-toxic-waste?utm_term=.hfJB6NglZ#.nhJ4dwkAQ

“Glyphosate in Our Food,” EcoWatch, August 4, 2017, https://www.ecowatch.com/monsanto-glyphosate-roundup-2468378805.html

It was he who suggested the use of an obscure “CIA” pamphlet on the destabilization of foreign governments as a strategic handbook . . . and he, too, who drew up the early hit lists of prominent “Americans” of the time.”

The World War II-era document, called Simple Sabotage Field Manual, outlines ways in which operatives can disrupt and demoralize enemy administrators and police forces. The first section of the document, which can be read in its entirety here, addresses “Organizations and Conferences” — and how to turn them into a “dysfunctional mess”:

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.”

“Within 24 hours, a part of widely different Trump speeches,” PBS Newshour, August 24, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/within-24-hours-pair-wildly-different-trump-speeches/

Somestimes I wish she would just shut up and let me walk in peace.  But I’m ravenous for news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.
Numerous examples to cite. Most recent: “CNN’s Acosta: What Trump Calls ‘fake news’ keeps people safe during hurricanes,” The Hill, August 25, 2017. http://thehill.com/homenews/media/347932-cnns-acosta-what-trump-calls-fake-news-keeps-people-safe-during-hurricanes

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, the said on television. Everything is under control. . . .

That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.

Things continued in that state of suspended animation for weeks, although some things did happen. Newspapers were censored and some were closed down, for security reasons they said. The roadblocks began to appear, and Identipasses. Everyone approved of that, since you couldn’t be too careful.

“The REAL ID Act, Frequently Asked Questions.” US Department of Homeland Security. https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs

This is not my standard book club format. After finishing a re-read of Margaret Atwood’s 1984 literary classic The Handmaid’s Tale I was too dumbstruck to try it. Our book club is reading The Handmaid’s Tale next month. Perhaps yours should too.
“The Handmaid’s Tale is the latest dystopian novel to top bestseller lists,” The Washington Post, February 7, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/07/margaret-atwoods-the-handmaids-tale-is-the-newest-dystopian-novel-to-top-bestseller-lists/?utm_term=.a4bd87fb92c1
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LaRose, by Louise Erdrich

Autumn Woods, Maxfield ParrishIt is hunting season in North Dakota, 1997, and Landreaux Iron is stalking a buck on the land adjacent to his own. He has confidence borne of a lifetime of successful hunts: he will kill the deer, thank it for its food, share the meat with his family — wife Emmeline, sons LaRose, Willard, Hollis, daughters Snow and Josette; his friends; even his personal care clients. Landreaux sights the deer, shoots. But it is not the buck that is taken: it is Dusty, the five year old son of his friend and neighbor. Dusty Ravich and LaRose, Landreaux’s son, have grown up together, children of half-sisters and are nearly as close as brothers. Dusty plummets from his tree perch, and in that instant the lives of everyone within his scope are radically changed.

Like The Round House, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/national-book-award-winner-the-round-house-louise-erdrich/, LaRose revolves around the tribal life of the Ojibwe people in North Dakota. There’s even a brief, and frankly confusing, appearance by Father Travis from the earlier novel. But in LaRose, history takes a central  role. The history of each character which in the study of the individual reveals the history of a people, beginning with the first LaRose, a young girl, in the 19th Century, a healer and a mystic:

She learned how to sew with a machine. How to imagine her own mouth sewed LaRoseshut. For speaking Anishinaabe. She learned how to endure being beaten with a board. How to eat with a fork, a spoon . . . how to grow vegetables, how to steal them, how to scrub floors, scrub walls, scrub pots, scrub the body, scrub the head . . . what rats were and how to kill them. . . . She learned how to stand correctly. . . . How to walk like a white woman on hard shoes. How to use and wash out menstrual stinking rags when Ojibwe women never stunk of old blood. . . . She learned to stink, learned to itch, learned to boil her underwear for lice. . . . She learned to sleep on cold floors, endure the smell of white people, and set a proper table. She learned how to watch her friends die. . . . She learned how to sing funeral hymns. . . . She learned, like her mother, how to hide that she had tuberculosis. . . . She knew ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ and yet her mother had taught her how to use both fierce and subtle Ojibwe poisons. . . . Her mother had taught her to put her spirit away for safekeeping when that was necessary.

As an aside, news reports last week spoke of the repatriation of the remains of Native American children forced to attend assimilation boarding schools, http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2017/08/09/Matter-of-honor-Grave-repatriation-of-American-Indians-is-just/stories/201708310020, an issue central to the story of the LaRose just prior to Landreaux’s son.

Following Dusty’s death, Landreaux and his wife Emmeline seek guidance by enteringsweat the traditional Ojibwe sweat lodge and when they emerge have a solution. They will give their son LaRose to Dusty’s parents, Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now.”

With LaRose, Louise Erdrich won the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN Faulkner award. I listened to this book on Audible and it is the first I’ve heard read by the author. Louise Erdrich reading her own words allowed me to hear the book as the author wanted it to be read, with emphasis on the words she chose to emphasize, focus on the passages upon which she wished to focus.

He was becoming an effective human being. He had learned from his birth family how to snare rabbits, make stew, paint fingernails, glue wallpaper, conduct ceremonies, start outside fires in a driving rain, sew with a sewing machine, cut quilt squares, play Halo, gather, dry, and boil various medicine teas. He had learned from the old people how to move between worlds seen and unseen. Peter taught him how to use an ax, a chain saw, safely handle a .22, drive a riding lawn mower, drive a tractor, even a car. Nola taught him how to paint walls, keep animals, how to plant and grow things, how to fry meat, how to bake. Maggie taught him how to hide fear, fake pain, how to punch with a knuckle jutting. How to go for the eyes. How to hook your fingers in a person’s nose from behind and threaten to rip the nose off your face. He hadn’t done these things yet, and neither had Maggie, but she was always looking for a chance.

Ultimately, LaRose asks whether redemption is possible when you have committed an unforgivable act. Father Travis, Landreaux, the first LaRose, Nola (Dusty’s mother), Romeo — a childhood friend of Landreaux, evenly the saintly Emmeline struggle to find the answer for himself or herself. Erdrich’s answer, though, is yes.

“Sorrow eats time. Be patient. Time eats sorrow.”

I highly recommend LaRose for your book club’s next read.

MENU

The closing scene of LaRose features a graduation feast.famous dave's

Slow-cooker beef chuck barbecue using Famous Dave’s barbecue sauce

Cole Slaw

Fry bread

Potato salad

Meatball soup

Sheet cakes

I haven’t made fry bread, but here’s a recipe from Food.Com: http://www.food.com/recipe/native-american-fry-bread-367036

My grandmother’s cole slaw recipe:

1 medium cabbage, shredded

3 grated carrots

1/3 cup mayonnaise

5 teaspoons lemon juice

pinch of nutmeg

1 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon onion salt

Mix all ingredients. Cover and “let age” a few hours in refrigerator. Stir well before serving.

MUSIC

According to their website, the Medicine Wheel Spirit Singers’ repertoire is from historical Ojibwe traditions, translated into English. http://www.medicinewheelspiritsingers.com/music/the-songs-we-sing/

Happy Reading!

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Louise Erdrich