The Handmaid’s Tale, a masterpiece of TV and literature, was based on the appropriation of minors during the last military dictatorship | remembrance day

By Nicholas Pichersky

“The reality exceeds fiction”. Saying it so much, the phrase became a slogan. A hose, a common place. However, just a few years ago, in 2018, when the series The Handmaid’s Tale won five Emmy statuettes becoming a global success, the author of the original novel, Margaret Atwood, said the mentioned phrase again. Or rather, she expressed it more brutally: Argentine reality and history from the March 24, 1976 surpass the most dystopian and horrific (science) fiction.

Atwood, nominated for the Nobel Prize and with recognitions such as being President of the PEN Club or Honorary Member of the North American Academy of Arts and Sciences, confessed something uncommon: The Handmaid’s Talepublished in 1985, had been inspired by the last Argentine military dictatorship:

“The divide between women’s rights and human rights is a false dichotomy. One of my sources for The Handmaid’s Tale (The Handmaid’s Tale) was Argentina under the government of the Generals (sic). So many women killed and their children stolen“The Canadian said on her twitter account at the time.

For those unfamiliar with either the original novel or the series (produced by Atwood herself), The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the present or in the near future. There it is reported a military coup that suppresses women’s rights. The “maids” are young and fertile who are considered an object and whose value lies in their ability to engender life, all under a system of slavery and systematic rape.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo

The maid’s tale, fiction and reality

In a unique way, Margaret Atwood has built a bibliography in which she learned look to the past to understand the present. She is an author who knows how to observe the times and the political reality as a whole. In 2005 she took The odysseythe classic of Greek mythology and the reverted in a feminist key with the title of Penelope and the twelve maids.

If in that experience she made of the past (in the form of a myth), a current feminist reading; in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale He drank from the present, from the here and now more stark and brutal: the pregnancies, theft of babies and torture in the clandestine detention centers during the dictatorship, to transform all that into a story of science fiction and horror.

Like the horror, or what can hardly be imagined, expressed or written, could only be narrated through a genre, science fiction. Which is mostly about what hasn’t happened yet. The paradox is that, of course, this had already happened in our country. “As in totalitarian regimes—or indeed in any radically hierarchical society—the ruling class monopolizes everything of any value, the elite of the regime manage to divvy up the fertile females as servants,” Atwood explains at the beginning of his novel.

As the writer and essayist Elvio Gandolfo observes in his book The Book of Reloaded Genres“Science fiction is not the genre that denies reality, but the one that feeds on it. It is the story of what perhaps ‘could happen’ ”. Today, 46 years after the civic-military coupthe writers Carlos Gamerro and Cecilia Fanti They talk with Página/12 about the subject. Or how Argentine narrative and memory relate to each other.

The maid’s tale, inspired by the appropriation of minors in a dictatorship

The Argentine military dictatorship or how to narrate the horror

“It’s interesting,” he says. Carlos Gameroauthor among others of The birth of Argentine literature and other essays, Las Islas and The cage of the onas among others—that Atwood, to write dystopian fiction The Handmaid’s Tale uses reality, what has already happened: the theft of babies in the Argentine dictatorship. And that leads to a not very flattering reflection, which is that Argentina fed the mythical record of many of the horrors of the 20th century. When I say “mythical” I do not mean false or fictional, but rather those historical facts that have such power that They become iconic. For example the figure of the disappeared, that in any place in the world, its meaning is the meaning it has for Argentina and that it was given here”.

“In this way -continues the author of The adventure of the busts of Eva- has resorted to the horror, police or science fiction, to deal with the most recalcitrant, incredible or frightening themes of our history. As if traditional realism were not enough to deal with the horrors of the last dictatorship. John Joseph Saerto cite just one example, does so in the investigation and through a genre such as police. As well Mariana Enriquez in recent times does it through terror. In reality, in Argentina we have many antecedents, such as Hilario Ascasubi’s poem, “Isidora, la federala y mazorquera”, loaded with gothic terror. And even, for example, with the exacerbated realism of the The slaughterhouse of Esteban Echeverría, does not finish reaching: it was necessary, to make the incredible of the dictatorship believable, resort to the genre of the supernatural. Ultimately, perhaps Macbeth of William Shakespeare, political terror and supernatural terror, may have been born together.

For Cecilia Fanti translator and author of novels the miracle girl and At this time of night”authors like Margaret Atwood or Kurt Vonnegut from science fiction warn us about those edges, those worlds in which they were inspired and projected their literature. Literature explains what within reality we cannot understand. And maybe if we talked to a pre-adolescent today who doesn’t know what happened in the last Argentine military dictatorship, and we told him all that horror, he might well tell us something like ‘oh, just like the series The Handmaid’s Tale‘.

Fanti continues: “At the same time, it should be noted that we had our own narrative. We do not resort, having said this in parentheses and not as criticism, to science fiction, because there were some Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo claiming the apparition alive. And we have the testimonies of the Trial of the Military Juntas, with Rodolfo Walsh’s Open Letter to the Military Junta. Or more here in time with movies like the blondes by Albertina Carri, the novel Appeared by Martha Dillon, Diary of a Montonera Princess by Mariana Eva Pérez and many others.

“In the end, the appropriation of minors, the theft of babies during the dictatorship, it does not have so much to do with the order of the unspeakable but, even worse, with the improbable. It’s like saying ‘this couldn’t have happened’. And that narrative was achieved, fought for and achieved (which is a narrative of reality) regardless of whether it was fiction or not. I mean: from Canada, Margaret Atwood was able to encapsulate recent Argentine history in an extraordinary and dystopian science fiction. And we, from the proximity, reach it with the image of these women in white headscarves. Marching, claiming bravely for her children and grandchildren, carrying her photos. That’s quite a narrative”.

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The Handmaid’s Tale, a masterpiece of TV and literature, was based on the appropriation of minors during the last military dictatorship | remembrance day