ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
At this point, it's probably safe to call it a trend. Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, "The Handmaid's Tale," is the latest work of classic dystopian fiction to hit the Amazon Bestseller lists since the presidential election. It joins George Orwell's "1984" and Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here." NPR's Petra Mayer reports.
PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: You might have seen protesters at the women's marches last month holding signs saying things like "The Handmaid's Tale" is not an instruction manual and, make Margaret Atwood fiction again.
"The Handmaid's Tale" depicts an America collapsed into a theocratic dystopia called Gilead. It's a place where women are brutally oppressed. They're forbidden to read and forced to bear children for the ruling class. For many readers, that story is suddenly relevant. For Atwood herself, that's a bit of a surprise.
MARGARET ATWOOD: Who know? Let's just put it that way. When I wrote it, who knew?
MAYER: "The Handmaid's Tale" is on top of the Amazon Bestseller lists. That's partly because Hulu has adapted it for TV. The show will debut in April, and viewers got their first glimpse of Gilead this past weekend during the Super Bowl.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE HANDMAID'S TALE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) You girls will serve the leaders and their barren wives.
ATWOOD: At this moment in U.S. history, quite a few people are worried that it's going that way.
MAYER: According to publicist Russell Perreault, "The Handmaid's Tale" has been selling strongly for months.
RUSSELL PERREAULT: In the last year, we've gone up 60 percent. And since the election, it's been 200 percent increase in sales.
MAYER: Perreault is the head of publicity for Anchor Books, which currently publishes "The Handmaid's Tale."
PERREAULT: Just this year alone, 2017, we've printed 125,000 copies of the book and since last November, 150,000 copies.
MAYER: And if you're wondering, that's a lot of books. Perreault says a lot of those copies are being bought by people who've read the book before.
PERREAULT: Now they're all reading it again, looking from a different view.
MAYER: Atwood says, back when she wrote the book 30 years ago, she got three distinct reactions.
ATWOOD: The English said, jolly good yarn. They obviously we weren't too worried about it (laughter). The Canadians, in their nervous way, said, could it happen here? And the Americans said, how long have we got?
MAYER: But it's not just nervous Americans on the left who are working out their worries on Amazon. As I was writing this story, "The Handmaid's Tale" was sitting at number one. "1984" was number two, and "Dangerous," the upcoming book by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, was at number three. Petra Mayer, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.