"Trump is not the face of Gilead," the author tells PEOPLE. "He is a different kind of demagogue."

By Sam Gillette
September 12, 2019 01:00 PM
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Margaret Atwood, the author of the 1985 dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale, was already writing a sequel when President Donald Trump was elected—a stunning win that caused many of her already reverential readers to call her a prophet.

In an interview featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Atwood discusses her new book, The Testaments, and one of her biggest concerns about the current administration: Trump is impeding the fight against climate change. (A longtime climate change denier, Trump has also reversed numerous regulations created to protect the environment.)

“I didn’t have any expectations,” says Atwood, 79, about Trump’s presidency, “but the really serious thing is that we’re losing time on the climate crisis.”

For many people, the election was a wake-up call, Atwood explains.

“It focused people’s minds,” she says. “It focused the minds of people who had been going a bit la di da. ‘Oh, well I’m not going to vote because they’re are all the same.’ Or they were going, ‘Well, I can’t really vote for either [Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump].’ So, they didn’t vote and that was a mistake.”

Thirty-five years ago, Atwood came to national attention with the publication of The Handmaid’s Tale. Since then, she’s gained a whole new level of adoration following the 2016 election and the release of the eponymous Hulu series—at least by the part of the population who viewed Trump’s presidency as a frightening step toward the authoritarian patriarchy the book depicts.

And now she’s raising a whole new series of philosophical and political questions with The Testaments. The sequel took Atwood four years to write and explores the downfall of the novel’s repressive Gilead through the stories of three women connected to the original handmaid.

For all of the interpretations of her books, Atwood wants to make one point very clear.

“Trump is not the face of Gilead,” she says. “They’re much more parenthetically religious than he. He’s not at all. He is a different kind of demagogue.”

For more on Atwood, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.

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Despite her concern about the current political climate, Atwood says she’s encouraged by young activists.

“The longer people delay, the worse it’s going to get,” she says. “But I’m very encouraged by the young people, who’ve got extinction revolution going. They will be voting soon.”

She continues: “Everyone should realize climate change is a real thing. And who you should vote for is not that person who says it’s not happening.”

The Testaments is on sale now.

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