Friday, May 10, 2024

The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

 The Minstry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton | Sceptre

ISBN 9781399726344

I don't usually read sci fi, although there are a few exceptions. However, I was intrigued by the description of this book, in which a select group of people are brought from the past to present-day Britain and must learn to inhabit the 21st century. I do love a good culture shock story. This excellent book is far more than that, though, and I am so glad I read it!

The book is told from the perspective of a civil servant, who had been toiling away in the Languages department, but applies for and is hired for a much more secretive and well-paying job in the Ministry, where time travel has been discovered. She will be the 'bridge' to Commander Graham Gore, who had been known as one of those who perished in the Franklin expedition to the Arctic. History says he died in 1847, but now he's learning about life in the 21st century. The bridge is there to monitor him and help him navigate this new world. Even she isn't clear about what the Ministry is about and what the purpose of the project is. This job also makes her think about her own life as an outsider--her mother was a refugee from Cambodia and she grew up with the casual racism that is sadly so common. Just as the 'expats' as they are called (in order to keep away the stigma of the word 'immigrant') must figure out what their place is in a new society, the bridge continues to figure out her place in her own. Her experience also complicates her relationship with Commander Gore at times, but in spite of the fact that this is supposed to be a job, she soon finds herself growing closer to her expat. At the same time, she finds herself uneasy about some of the things that are happening at the Ministry and isn't sure what to do about it. At one point she says, 'Life is a series of slamming doors. We make irrevocable decisions every day. A twelve-second delay, a slip of the tongue, and suddenly your life is on a new road.' (p 160)

As you'd expect, there is a lot in this book about belonging and feeling misplaced. For the bridge, this is a generational thing--there is a very moving short scene in which she remembers a trip to her mother's home place in Cambodia and how her mother's accent was ridiculed. She clearly didn't fit in there, but she never quite fit in in Britain, either. The bridge's sister writes about her experiences with racism, while the bridge tries to fit in and pass as white. In similar ways, the expats have different strategies for navigating their current world.

I don't want to give anything away, but I'll just say that the last 100 pages or so are a wild ride. I thought I knew where the book was going. I was wrong. This is a really fine book, beautifully written, and a real page-turner. I was annoyed every time I had to put it down and couldn't wait to get back to it. I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it and I think it will stay with me for a long time. Fantastic read!

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for a digital review copy.

Update--an article about the author appeared in The Guardian and you can read it here


My name is Erika. said...

I don't usually read sci-fi either, but this does sound really good! Thanks for the review.

Shari Burke said...

It's such a great book.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I have never read sci-fi and have never been attracted to it, but it sounds like this is the book that might change that! Great review, Shari. Your enthusiasm is infectious.

Shari Burke said...

I'm a sucker for a good culture shock narrative! :-) Toss in a collection of people feeling misplaced for various reasons and a whiff of dystopia and I'm in!

Lowcarb team member said...

I don't usually read sci-fi, but this does sound a very good read.

All the best Jan

Shari Burke said...

So many times have I started a sci fi book that people rave about, only to find out pretty quickly that it's not for me. This one was a very excellent exception to my history with the genre!