Caddie Blair is a journalist covering the Pakistan-Israeli conflict. Her lover, Marcus, a prize-winning photographer, documents the stories with searing images that expose the human casualties of war - the true victims. Caddie has convinced herself that their attachment is without strings, that Marcus agrees with her avoidance of commitment. The day before he is scheduled to take a break and fly back to New York, Marcus, Caddie and two journalists cross the border of Lebanon in pursuit of an interview with a Lebanese crime king, and Marcus is killed in an ambush. In this embattled land, death lurks but a step behind, and for some, tomorrow never comes.
Suddenly, there is no Marcus to balance her stories with his inspiring photographs, no more small moments of peace and intimacy in an island of unpredictable horrors. The uncharted territory of grief is unfamiliar to Caddie, and she finds living on the razor's edge of danger has lost its appeal, becoming more tentative in her work. Caddie is trapped in the memory of Marcus but refuses to take time off as ordered. She carries a rage in her heart, a need to avenge the loss of the man who humanized the inhuman in his sensitive photographs.
Haunted by that fateful day in Lebanon, Caddie is in flight, desperate for emotional purchase, "the turbulence of some gigantic machine careening forward at reckless, pointless speed". She has so far lived securely in the niche she carved for herself, the identity of objective journalist. Ultimately, Caddie will realize that while these are her stories, to the people living this nightmare, these are their lives.
When she meets an enigmatic Russian with his own sad tale, Caddie forges an emotional bond that eventually forces her to confront the dark roots of her own psyche, though at first she confuses the Russian with Marcus' nascent goodness. Sorting through the confusion is an unexpected challenge, for Caddie refuses to quite relinquish Marcus' impact on her life, searching for him through the soul of the other man.
Author Masha Hamilton (Staircase of a Thousand Steps), a foreign correspondent herself for ten years, speaks the language of a terrain too long littered with the corpses of generations of Palestinians and Israelis. Hamilton is unflinching in the face of unremitting violence, with evocative descriptions of what humans do to each other in the name of God. Her protagonist is thrust into a world of absolutes, where lives are crushed with impunity: "She has, after all, a survivor's pact with this land: both are tainted now, but both will endure."