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Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin

Anchor Books

ISBN: 0-385-72084-X

Gelesen: 2006

This is a book about a book about a book.

The innermost book is a trivial science fiction story, written for one of the 1930's pulp magazine (in the story of the level 2 book). But it is the one that gives the (outermost) book its name. It is the story of a wealthy city on some faraway planet, that has a lot of brutal and inhuman customs. One of them being child labour - children work under bad conditions until they become blind, and then the blind children are trained to be assassins. Another custom is to sacrifice children to the gods, and to cut out their tongues before. In the course of a conspiracy, one of the blind assassins comes upon one of the mute sacrifice girls (who he is supposed to kill).

This story is told (in the level 2 book) in the 1930s by a pulp science fiction writer to his mistress, who is apparently from a high-class background. The writer is permanently on the run, being a communist agitator (it's the 1930s in Canada), and he is earning some money from writing. In fact, he publishes the story he told his mistress in a magazine later, but slightly different, and without the blind assassin in it.

In the level 1 book, the level 2 book has been left by a young society woman who committed suicide shortly after world war 2 was over. Her sister is telling the story of their lives as the daughters of a wealthy industrialist from a Canadian backwater.

I know Margaret Atwood mostly from her "real" science fiction works, which are off the main stream and always thought-provoking, so I wanted to try more of her. And I wasn't disappointed. Though the Blind Assassin isn't full of Atwood's typical pessimism, since it ends in 1999 and we all know what the world looks like in 1999. But it sheds an interesting light onto Canadian society of the pre-war times. In the mid 1930s, society seems to be so afraid of communists that they seek the wrong allies: "Toward the end [...] we spent a week in Berlin. Richard had some business there, which had to do with the handles of shovels. One of Richard's firms made shovel handles, and the Germans were short of wood. There was a lot of digging to be done, and more projected [...]".

On the total, it is a very interesting story with a lot of unexpected turns.

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