Set in South China some eight years into the Sino-Japanese war, George Johnston's new novel features as central characters David Meredith, a veteran newspaperman nearing forty, and his fresh-minted twenty four-year-old colleague, Bruce Conover -- plus a cast of thousands, in the bitterest sense extras and expendable. A reconnaissance trip to the isolated city of Kweilin to see how the Chungking communique reporting a full-scale Japanese invasion has affected the inhabitants discloses a major tragedy -- one of the ""great stories"". Meredith and Conover find Kweilin deserted -- the unfortunate people have fled for Liuchow some 300 kilometers distant, where the railroad can carry them North. They trace the Kweilinese on their dusty, drought-ravaged journey, each revealing qualities of compassion and courage, of callousness and cowardliness as they traverse the land of the dead and doomed -- for thousands of the natives have died en route. Meredith is harder hit by the tragedy and his knowledge of its source in irresponsible greed. He tries to impress the meaning of it all upon his jaunty comrade, but finds that the measure of his own idealism often falls short against Conover's realism. They reach Liuchow, they see the last train leave, and Meredith tries to outdistance his terrible caring as he races the symbol of a disaster from which he and Conover, the pressmen, the outsiders, can walk away whole. Essentially an adventure story in which an ordeal takes on overtones of a spiritual odyssey, not fully realised but gripping nonetheless.