cover image The Ministry of Time

The Ministry of Time

Kaliane Bradley. Avid Reader, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-6680-4514-5

British Cambodian writer Bradley’s clever debut features time travel, romance, cloak-and-dagger plotting, and a critique of the British Empire. The unnamed narrator, who works as a translator for Britain’s Ministry of Defence sometime in the near future, is selected by the government to aid a newly formed agency to process time travelers from the past. Her assigned “expat” is real-life polar explorer Lt. Graham Gore, who has arrived in the future sometime before his death during the ill-fated 1845 Franklin expedition, a mind-bender Bradley heads off at the pass (“Anyone who has ever watched a film with time-travel... will know that the moment you start to think about the physics of it, you are in a crock of shit”). The narrator, whose mother was a Cambodian refugee, feels a kinship with Gore’s sense of disorientation. The roguishly handsome naval officer lives with her as part of the terms of the assignment, and her account of their burgeoning mutual attraction is interspersed with episodes from Gore’s disastrous journey to the Arctic. A thriller-like scenario regarding mortal threats to the narrator and Gore feels secondary; more fruitful are Bradley’s depictions of the ways in which time travelers react to modern nightclubs, sexual freedoms, and the news that the empire has “collapse[d].” It’s a sly and ingenious vehicle for commentary on the disruptions and displacements of modern life. (May)