The Ministry of Culture: A Novel

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In his debut novel, James P. Mullaney brilliantly portrays the lives of two men, one an American and the other an Iraqi, each caught up in the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq war. Over the course of just a few days, each will seek a way to change the course of a violent conflict that has irrevocably altered their futures.

Journalist Michael Young has come to Baghdad to cover the war and the seemingly relentless pattern of violence in Iraq. His return has also given him the chance to ...

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The Ministry of Culture: A Novel

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In his debut novel, James P. Mullaney brilliantly portrays the lives of two men, one an American and the other an Iraqi, each caught up in the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq war. Over the course of just a few days, each will seek a way to change the course of a violent conflict that has irrevocably altered their futures.

Journalist Michael Young has come to Baghdad to cover the war and the seemingly relentless pattern of violence in Iraq. His return has also given him the chance to reunite with Daniella, a British-Iraqi journalist whose family history has drawn her back to a city that offers her only danger and distrust.

Ibrahim Galeb al-Mansur has devoted his life to the study of art. But the government's repression and paranoia have destroyed his family and silenced his talents. Forced to paint the enormous murals of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that appear throughout the country, he finds refuge each night among insurgents plotting the overthrow of the brutal dictator.

The Ministry of Culture is a compelling, sometimes unsettling look at the history of Iraqi politics, the complicity of Western governments, and the universal question of how much a person can endure — and what is art's worth — amidst the violence of war.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Over intervals from five separate months in 1984—the fourth year of the Iran-Iraq war—debut novelist Mullaney tells a harrowing story of life under Saddam. In the hall-of-mirrors atmosphere of Baghdad, one's duties to the state are done and overdone, and Ibrahim Galeb al-Mansur continues to serve the ministry of culture as a muralist (huge Saddams) even after five soldiers of the Republican Guard break into his apartment and gang rape Shalira al-Mahoudi, his fiancée. Meanwhile, Daniella Burkett, of the London Times, braves the nightly bombardments to spend time with her lover, the New York Times's Michael Young. Michael's visit to the hospital where his government minder, Quadro, is recuperating (he stepped on a mine) serves to draw Michael into a web of partisan intrigue—he makes and loses friends virtually simultaneously, and, in time, makes the rare acquaintance of his own better self. Shalira finds herself pregnant with a rapist's child and spares Ibrahim's honor by taking her own life. In response, Ibrahim takes over the leadership of polyglot local dissidents. Mullaney's is that rare war narrative that doesn't depend on carnage for the lasting impression it creates; his culture ministry is ultimately a department of the human interior. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Two widely divergent cultures frame Mullaney's debut novel, set in 1984 during the Iraq-Iran war. Ibrahim, a young muralist for Saddam Hussein, joins a subversive movement aimed at toppling the government after his wife is raped by Iraqi soldiers and subsequently commits suicide. Through an encounter with Ibrahim, American journalist Michael learns of the disintegration of the Iraqi family, strengthening his desire to establish a family with his journalist girlfriend, who also has suffered at the hands of the military. Ibrahim solicits the reporter's help in recording his "glorious history," but the dissident's final act is anything but honorable. Ibrahim's tragedy serves as a footnote to the recently executed Iraqi dictator's horrendous deeds, which ushered his country into chaos and disillusionment. This is a well-written and credible novel, although with its obvious good guy, bad guy theme and only a perfunctory look at thornier political issues such as tribalism, chemical warfare, and the American exploitation of Middle East oil, it reads more like a best seller than a literary work. Recommended for public libraries.
—Victor Or

Kirkus Reviews
While the title echoes The Ministry of Truth from George Orwell's 1984, Mullaney's debut novel is grounded in contemporary Mideast politics-most of the action takes place during 1984, at the midpoint of the Iran-Iraq war. American journalist Michael Young is invited to visit Iraq to report on the war. His perspective is doomed to remain "official"; he is squired around by a government-sponsored "minder" and has no freedom to do the kind of hard-headed independent journalism he would like to do. He reconnects romantically with another reporter, Daniella Burkett, an American conveniently of Iraqi descent. Part of the novel is relayed from Michael's point of view, and part is a third-person account of Ibrahim Galeb Al-Mansur, an artist working for the Iraqi government. While Al-Mansur's artistic talents allow him to paint glorified portraits of Saddam Hussein by day, the novel traces his growing incendiary (literally) radicalism. The alternating "voices" and chronological fragmentation give the novel the illusion of complexity, but the characters are as thin as cardboard and as flat as a sidewalk, and too often we cringe at Young's (Mullaney's?) tin ear: "The opinions and positions he took with such a boisterous condescendence toward anything to the contrary were extremely dangerous"; "there is no time for pensive reflection" (as opposed another kind?). Even Daniella, who wins a Pulitzer for her reporting on a chemical attack of a Kurdish village, speaks woodenly. Young concludes, "Nothing has ever made much sense in this part of the world." Regrettably, his novel doesn't make much sense either.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312354466
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.63 (w) x 8.69 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

JAMES P. MULLANEY lives on Long Island. He is a graduate of Providence College. This is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Outside the room gunfire has erupted into small explosions. The night has lifted into a state of heightened activity. Sirens soon follow and fill the streets of this ancient place. This is the sixth night in a row. There is a shutdown and curfew in effect that lasts until late morning. Daniella will have to sneak out like a Gypsy, a reference she despises, if she decides not to stay the night.

But I am far away and safe. I am lost in the aroma of perfume off her bare neck. Its scent is like opium and triggers a familiarity I am now playing out along the edges of her dark lips with my fingers. Bombs go off close to the city's limits and their flickering light falls like drops of rain across her body.

It is Iraq. The year is 1984.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2007

    A Country that became a Slaughtehouse

    Better than the Kite Runner. Gives tremendous insight into that horrific period.

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