It has proved a talking point and cultural reference since it was first published in 1985, and now Margaret Atwood’s seminal work is available for Arabic readers. The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel set in the fictional Republic of Gilead, has been published in Arabic for the first time, it was revealed at this week’s Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).
The best-selling novel follows the story of Offred, one of the eponymous handmaiden, who are treated as property of the state in a totalitarian society faced with a decreasing birthrate. The handmaiden, some of the state’s last remaining fertile women, are forced to carry children for wealthier families, and are kept under strict rules and observation. The inquisitive, thought-provoking work, which was set in the near-future United States, was nominated for the 1986 Book Prize, and won the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. It has since been turned into a film and an Emmy Award-winning TV series starring Elisabeth Moss.
The news of the Arabic translation was revealed in a statement-making display at SIBF, with handmaids wearing the book’s signature red capes and white hats parading through the event’s halls. The work is one of 11 new translations released by Rewayat, an imprint of the UAE-based publisher Kalimat Group. The display visually echoed the revered TV show but for the books the women carried in hand – in Gilead, women are forbidden from reading of writing.
With the new translation, the characters are certainly now opening up to an even wider audience, unlike the women of Gildead. As Atwood noted in her novel, the handmaiden were “the people who were not in the papers”. “We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”