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.