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Catherine and Robert Harrow are an upper middle class couple living in Canberra, Australia. Catherine is a surgeon, Robert a high level public servant working for the Department of Immigration. They appear successful and comfortable yet they live their private life in anguish because they cannot conceive a child. Their desperation has turned their love-making into a destructive ritual of self-mutilation - one they mistakenly believe can lead to fertility.
Into this volatile situation arrives Ali Hadji, an Iraqi refugee recently released from an Australian detention centre on a temporary visa. Ali also wears scars of torture both external and internal. Fleeing the oppressive Sunni regime he has illegally crossed the ocean to secure a new life for his family back in Iraq, only to have his companion son die on the journey. Ali, who is working in Catherine's hospital as a cleaner, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Catherine's terminally ill mother Margaret Winter, an unwilling patient under her daughter's care.
When Ali receives news he is to be deported back to Iraq, Margaret is determined to help him stay. Catherine sees Ali and his suffering as the ultimate symbol of fertility and puts pressure upon Robert. But Robert is facing a dilemma of his own as he becomes responsible for a container ship - carrying ninety asylum seekers - headed to Australia. In its path is a storm which threatens the lives of all those on board.
'...an intelligent and insightful work, at its most interesting in its examination of passion's twin, compassion, and fully alive both to the corrosiveness of its absence and the impossibility of compassion without limit... An edgy and engaging, if remorseless, piece.' Cameron Woodhead, The Age, 11 Sept 2007
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Starts on page 37
EXTRACT: Watch closely my lad, for in the hacking of a young lamb one can locate the pure distillation of that rarest gem - truth. A vile murderer you speculate or merely a participant in Australia Day's festive vivisection. In deliberating this fine point I put forward the following platitude for philosophical rumination. Tis not the telling of a lie that is the true test of a man - but his ability to tell it in such a way that allows it never to have been a lie in the first place.