Thomas lands bewildered in Kathmandu, to find a place to scatter the ashes of his older brother Paul, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.
He meets an American cohort of Paul’s. Helen stayed and became a Buddhist nun. His visit prompts the surprising revelation that Paul is the father of her daughter. The girl, Eike, grew up in Kathmandu and became an unlikely Buddhist shaman, or healer.
His encounter with them is awkward. Thomas dabbles in meditation and Tantric sex, flirts with Helen, and loses the ashes. They almost lose Eike when she goes into ritual trance to guide her father out of bardo, the state between death and rebirth.
The characters are connected by the death and transmigration of Paul’s soul, the “white bird” that ties them together. Without knowing it, Thomas has followed a practice for grieving suggested in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.