Auction with action : Margaret Atwood tries to set fire to her own book – in vain. That’s what she’s all about


    The auction house Sotheby’s is auctioning a special version of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Author Margaret Atwood can be seen in a promotional video using a flamethrower to attempt to light the book. Vain. And that’s exactly what the Canadian and her publisher are all about.

    She holds the flamethrower firmly and unerringly in her fireproof gloved hands. Ahead of her is the worldwide hit she wrote, The Handmaid’s Tale. Fire-free. But the flames cannot harm the sides. Margaret Atwood smiles. Your life’s work cannot be destroyed. The scene is part of a short video published by Penguin Random House. He’s using it to promote the non-flammable version of Handmaid’s Tale, which he released in a limited, one-copy edition.

    The book, which was printed on fireproof paper, is currently being auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. Interested parties can bid on the unique issue on the Internet until June 7th. On Friday, June 3rd, the bid was already $100,000 – four days before the end of the auction. Proceeds will benefit PEN America. The Writers’ Association is committed to freedom of literature and human rights.

    Those responsible for the auction are also concerned about them. The auction house Sotheby’s, the publisher Penguin Random House and author Margaret Atwood want to protest against the censorship of books with the auction. Atwood has had to experience censorship herself with her books. “‘The Handmaid’s Report’ has been banned many times – sometimes by entire countries like Portugal and Spain in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries,” the publisher quotes the 82-year-old author as saying.

    Margaret Atwood paints the horrifying picture of an anti-feminist dictatorship

    “The Handmaid’s Tale” was first published in 1985 and has since been filmed several times, most recently as a very successful series starring Elisabeth Moss. The action takes place in a dystopian society, the theocracy of Gilead, a dictatorship in which women were deprived of their rights. Fertile women are kept as maids and abused to give birth. It is a deeply oppressive, compelling blueprint of a totally misguided, anti-feminist society.

    If anyone can make sure the book doesn’t get destroyed, it’s Margaret Atwood, Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, is quoted as saying in the publisher’s release. And one likes to read into this “the book” that it means more than the incombustible version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” from the auction, namely the entire medium of the book, the entire literature. In 2022, too, it faces special challenges and struggles for meaning – even in democratic countries.

    Common topics on the index: racism, gender debates and sex education

    PEN America recently published its report “Banned in the USA”. The index documents decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms across the US, covering the period July 2021 to March 2022 — and “alarming trends.” In those nine months, the index lists 1,586 cases of individual book bans, covering a total of 1,145 different titles. Of these, 72 percent were fictional texts, 47 percent were classified as books for young adults, and 18 percent were children’s picture books. Recurring themes on the Index are the recent setback and the ongoing debates surrounding racism in American history, LGBTQ identities and sex education in schools.

    A prominent example of a book ban in recent months is “Maus” (Stern reported). A school board in the US state of Tennessee removed the award-winning Holocaust comic from its curriculum earlier this year. Author Art Spiegelman processes his own family history in “Maus”: His parents were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Second World War, their eldest son died. Members of the Southern School Board were particularly offended by swear words such as “damn” and “bitch” used in the book. The author and Jewish associations sharply criticized the procedure. What the advocates of a ban probably did not expect: the book found a few more readers due to the newly gained attention. After the decision from Tennessee became known, “The Complete Mouse” made it to the top of the Amazon bestsellers in the “Graphic Novels” category and number 7 for books in general.

    Quellen: Youtube, Sothebys, Pen, Penguin Random House