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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jun-18 > The soothsayer’s tale

The soothsayer’s tale

Her eerily prescient novels have become symbols of resistance to Donald Trump— are we truly entering the age of Margaret Atwood?Andrew Dickson investigates

When the American comedian Michelle Wolf launched her blitzkrieg on the Trump administration at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April, few emerged unscathed, least of all the president. But Wolf made a special target of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, sitting a few seats away from her on stage. “I have to say I’m a little star-struck: I loved you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale,” Wolf cooed, to the sound of hundreds of journalists holding their breath. “Mike Pence,” she said, addressing the vice president, “if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.”

It would probably have been more surprising if the evening had passed without a reference to Margaret Atwood’s dystopia: the age of Trump seems to have become the age of Atwood. The television adaptation of her 1985 novel about women-hating Christian fundamentalists taking over the US, broadcast here on Channel 4 and now in its second series, has become a lightning rod for the #MeToo movement and millennial anti-Trump sentiment.

Sales of the book rose by 200 per cent after the 2016 election. On the Women’s March just after the inauguration, protestors dressed up in the scarlet robes and snow-white bonnets worn by the Handmaids and waved placards reading “Make Atwood Fiction Again.”

A concurrent television adaptation of her 1996 historical novel Alias Grace is even more timely: it focuses on the true story of a 19th-century immigrant woman accused of murder, trapped in a broken legal system.

Yet Atwood’s willingness to speak out on issues of the moment can also upset her fans. Earlier this year, she wrote an article in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most-read newspaper, entitled “Am I a bad feminist?” in which she refused to renounce an earlier statement comparing the #MeToo movement to the Salem witch trials and insisted that men accused of sexual harassment should be given a fair hearing. Social media erupted; many accused the author of betraying feminist principles. On Twitter, Atwood coolly responded by drawing attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Isabel Hilton, Rana Mitter, Kerry Brown and Yuan Ren debate the rise of China and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world. Hilton argues that China’s ideas could dominate the next century, just as American ideas dominated the last. Rana Mitter charts how those ideas have developed from Confucius to modern political theorist Wang Huning. Kerry Brown explores how Australia is dealing with the rise of China, by reimagining itself as an Asian country and drifting from the US. Yuan Ren asks whether China’s young people will forge a new path for the country in the coming decades. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield explores Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy, asking whether Britain would become a silent protester on the global sideline; Jonathan Liew asks if the World Cup has seen better days; Miranda France explores the life and meaning of Frida Kahlo, and Simon Jenkins says Trump’s charge through the China shop of world affairs is not all bad news.