The Ministry of Time: A Novel

Image of The Ministry of Time: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 7, 2024
Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by: 

“[The] concept of past and present ‘bridging’ together, is unveiled in a page-turning romp—a discovery of love, place, and meaning.”

There’s a surprising discovery in the novel: You will find yourself laughing out loud, not at the text, but with the text. Skillfully, a preponderous concept of past and present “bridging” together, is unveiled in a page-turning romp—a discovery of love, place, and meaning.

Many science fiction authors have delved—in print and on the screen—with the concept of characters out of place, awaking in more modern times—usually ours—and finding their weaknesses and strengths, and often desperately trying to hold on to their preferred habits, morals, and desires. What comes across with this work is the author’s skill at avoiding anything preachy, keeping the plot and subplots moving forward at pace, and, in the end, delivering a satisfying result.

In her use of an artic explorer, Graham Gore, as a main protagonist, surely dead and gone, kidnapped and sequestered with the heroine—herself somewhat closeted as a civil servant can only be – allows a yin/yang of morals, truth, and desire. In the juxtaposition of two era’s beliefs and morals in that confined space, deliberately making the female lead his guide all has the effect of keeping the reader riveted to the concept of change, irreversible change, seen as a whole for the first time by Gore and therefore to be re-appreciated and assessed by the reader.

The main protagonist, the Civil Servant, a Cambodian of immigrant origin, one of five bridges, is stuck with Gore who doesn’t want to be there nor does he care if he dies; there a running theme of finality and fatality throughout the book. That causes her to succor him in many ways and in that gentleness—always tinged with slight impatience at his reluctance to “update”—she begins to find the love her life has hitherto lacked. Gore is labeled as an “expat,” a turn of phrase that serves only to highlight the ridiculousness of taking someone from the past who is known to die and thrusting them into modern society, guide and teacher attached or not. There is irony here. Are not immigrants and expats today just as disoriented?

The book deals with all the comparison tropes one would expect: religion, sex, sexuality, permissiveness, attire, mores, desires, language change, habits. And yet at no time does the reader get told anything—all is revealed in a talented manner, part of the storytelling, much awaited, and anticipated perhaps but never trite.

When happiness come from the woman, it comes a-thudding at the reader’s heart. “I always thought of joy as a shouting, flamboyant thing, that tossed breath into the sky like a ball. Instead it robbed me of my speech and my air. I was pinned in place by joy and I didn’t know what to do.” Then she likens it to a crime, forbidden, too good to be true. And from that love takes hold and imbues the reader with a shared voyage.

Of course, the government mission must play out at odds with the Expat and the Civil Servant. He’s never grateful for having been lifted to modern times, why should he be? He’s been robbed of who he was, who he was to become, dead or not. He’s a guinea pig and she’s abetting the process. Given a choice of being part of the program or against it, he looks for ways forward. There are none.

For her, the reality that nothing will change, that history will repeat, backward and forward, with or without Expat samples, leaves her bereft of hope. When there is a doppelganger possibility for her, perhaps affecting all timelines, the authorities resort to violence and police raids to contain a program opening doors to chaos. Graham, himself a stalwart adventurer and military man, finds ways to subvert the program, safeguard player(s) and, in the end, pits her against her. And, there’s a twist, but the heroine’s assumption of who was who are to be shattered and the concept of reality turns out to be manufactured, never real. Time flows, ebbs, and comes with billet doux from nowhere.