BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood [in Booklist]

In her September 16, 2019, cover article for Time magazine, Atwood recalls informing the showrunner for the Emmy-winning Hulu adaptation of her iconic The Handmaid’s Tale, “You absolutely cannot kill Aunt Lydia, or I will have your head on a plate.” Aunt Lydia, it turns out, is one of three protagonists who impart The Testaments, Atwood’s momentously awaited sequel. This audio is an experience to savor, and celluloid groupies will be especially thrilled: Ann Dowd of the Hulu adaptation – making her audiobook debut – is Aunt Lydia all over again!

The Testaments begins 15 years after Handmaid’s conclusion, with Aunt Lydia the most significant continuing character. “If you are reading,” she addresses us directly, “this manuscript at least will have survived.” As Aunt Lydia exposes the machinations of Gilead’s elite and how they engender its destruction, we are riveted by Dowd’s tense control, keeping Aunt Lydia’s frenzied desperation just in check as she plots with ruthless efficiency.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Mae Whitman – both well-known screen actors, but relative newcomers to audiobooks – assume the voices of Witness 369A (Agnes Jemina), and Witness 369B (Daisy), respectively. Howard’s Agnes matures from a trusting innocent in Gilead’s suffocating society to a tenacious survivor and truth-seeker. Whitman’s Daisy, raised in Toronto in relative freedom, begins as the quintessential teenager, until the murder of her parents on her 16th birthday reveals the lies that have been her life and the lies she’ll need to live to save many others.

Canadian First Nations actor Tantoo Cardinal elegantly claims her brief role as the symposium-leading, Indigenous professor who introduces Derek Jacobi. For his part, Jacobi’s 22 audio minutes are reminiscent of Judi Dench’s Oscar win for her eight minutes of Shakespeare in Love screentime – his captivating, droll presentation is indeed as deserving. All throughout it is Atwood herself – with a voice infused with regal gravitas – who serves as commentator and guide, imparting offenses and demanding justice. An arresting full-cast production of one the year’s most hotly anticipated titles.

Review: “Media,” Booklist Online, September 19, 2019

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2019


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