On the edge of a small town in New South Wales, far from the battlefields of the Second World War, lies a prisoner-of-war camp housing Italian, Korean and Japanese soldiers. For their guards and the locals, many with loved ones away fighting, captive or dead, it is hard to know how to treat them - with disdain, hatred or compassion?
Alice, a young woman leading a dull life on her father-in-law's farm, is one of those with a husband held prisoner in Europe. When Giancarlo, an Italian POW and anarchist, is assigned to work on the farm, she hopes that being kind to him will somehow influence her husband's treatment. What she doesn't anticipate is how dramatically Giancarlo will expand her outlook and self-knowledge.
But what most challenges Alice and the town is the foreignness of the Japanese inmates and their culture, which the camp commanders fatally misread. Mortified by being taken alive, they plan an outbreak, to shattering and far-reaching effect.
In a career spanning half a century, Tom Keneally has proved a master at exploring ordinary lives caught up in extraordinary events. With this gripping and profoundly thought-provoking novel, inspired by a notorious incident in 1944, he once again shows why he is celebrated as a writer who 'looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match' - Sunday Telegraph.