Fireproof edition of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ up for auction

NEW YORK (AP) — Margaret Atwood imagined an apocalyptic disaster, a dystopian government and an author faking his own death. But until recently, she had spared herself the nightmare of trying to burn one of her own books.

With a flamethrower, no less. She failed, and that was the point.

On Monday night at PEN America’s annual gala, Atwood and Penguin Random House announced that a unique, unburnable edition of “The Handmaid’s Tale” will be auctioned by Sotheby’s New York. They kicked off the initiative with a brief video that shows Atwood unsuccessfully trying to incinerate his classic novel about a totalitarian patriarchy, the Republic of Gilead. Proceeds will be donated to PEN, which champions freedom of expression around the world.

“In the category of things you didn’t expect, this is one,” she said in a phone interview.

“To see his classic novel about the dangers of oppression reborn in this groundbreaking and immortal edition is a timely reminder of what is at stake in the battle against censorship,” Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said in a statement. communicated.

The Fireproof Narrative is a joint project between PEN, Atwood, Penguin Random House and two companies based in Toronto, where Atwood has long resided: creative agency Rethink and The Gas Company Inc., a studio specializing in graphic arts and binding.

Rethink’s Robbie Percy said he and fellow creative director Carolyn Friesen came up with the idea. Late last year, they had heard of a Texas lawmaker who had listed hundreds of books that could be banned from school libraries: Percy and Friesen wondered if it was possible to make a book protected from the most heartbreaking censorship. They quickly settled on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ which came out in the 1980s and has garnered renewed attention in recent years, starting with the political rise and unexpected presidency of Donald Trump. and continuing with the current wave of book bans.

“We thought a non-writable copy of ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ could serve as a symbol,” he said.

Percy and Friesen spoke to Atwood’s publishers in Canada and the United States—two divisions of Penguin Random House—and made contact with the author. They then contacted Gaslight, who have worked on many commissioned texts, including some for PEN.

The gas company’s principal owner, Doug Laxdal, told the AP that instead of paper, he and his colleagues use Cinefoil, a specially treated aluminum product. The 384-page text, which reads like an ordinary novel, took more than two months to complete. The gas company needed days to print the manuscript; Cinefoil sheets were so thin that some fell through cracks in the printer and were damaged beyond repair. The manuscript was then sewn by hand, using nickel-plated copper thread.

“The only way to destroy this book is with a paper shredder,” Laxdal says. “Otherwise it will last a very long time.”

Atwood told the AP she was immediately interested in the special edition and in directing the video. She was a teenager in the 1950s, when Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” was published, and has vivid memories of the novel’s futuristic setting, in which books are reduced to ashes.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” has never been burned, to Atwood’s knowledge, but has often been the subject of bans or attempted bans. Atwood recalls a 2006 effort in a Texas high school district, when the superintendent called her book “sexually explicit and offensive to Christians,” which ended when the students successfully fought back. In 2021, “The Handmaid’s Tale” was pulled by schools in Texas and Kansas.

The novel has sold millions of copies and its impact is not just in words, but in images, amplified by Hulu’s award-winning adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss. Women’s rights advocates around the world have donned the Puritan cape dresses Atwood designed for her story. More recently, some women in maids’ outfits marched in protest against the Supreme Court’s expected overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

“It’s an unforgettable visual metaphor,” Atwood said. “That’s why people in the Middle Ages put coats of arms on their armor and had recognizable flags. That way you can visualize them and know who is defending what.


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