Margaret Atwood tries to burn her "unburnable" book. (all images courtesy Sotheby's)

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale has been counted among the most banned books in America, and the characters’ distinctive red and white uniform has been adopted by the pro-choice movement as a symbol of a dystopian society that feels increasingly familiar. After book bans reached an all-time high this year, Atwood is taking a stand by putting a fireproof version of the novel up for auction at Sotheby’s. The proceeds will go to PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, to fight censorship.

The Handmaid’s Tale paints the picture of a patriarchal totalitarian society in which women are relegated to the roles of obedient wife or sex slave. The book’s 2017 Hulu adaptation proved a major hit and Atwood’s wrote a sequel, The Testaments, that was published in 2019.

The project was the brainchild of public relations agency Rethink Creative and is a four-part collaboration with Atwood, her publisher Penguin Random House, and a specialty bookbinder called the Gas Company.

The Gas Company is based out of Toronto, where Atwood lives. They made the pages of the nonflammable book out of an aluminum product and bound it with nickel, a process that took the company two months to complete. The final product can withstand temperatures up to 1,220 degrees Fahrenheit.

The cover illustration was created by artist Noma Bar, whose use of negative space suggests a silhouetted face.

“In the face of a determined effort to censor and silence, this unburnable book is an emblem of our collective resolve to protect books, stories and ideas from those who fear and revile them,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

The Handmaid’s Tale was the seventh most-banned book in the United States in 2019. The book is estimated to sell for up to $100,000 when it is auctioned off online on June 7.

In a Sotheby’s press release, Atwood stated: “I never thought I’d be trying to burn one of my own books … and failing.”

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.