The novel portrays the widespread changes to Tibetan society made by the Chinese since the 195o’s as the ancient society is brought into modern times. The story emerges as two young lovers are torn apart when young Pasang flees to Nepal, leaving his beloved and pregnant Indus to her fate as concubine to a wealthyTibetan noble who seeks a male heir. Chang believes the little boy is his and marries Indus as a reward. Always opportunistic, Chang lets a Chinese Lt. Li have Indus for his pleasure to gain favor.To her surprise, Indus comes to love Lt. Li because he is good to her and cares for her baby. In Nepal Pasang finds another love, but Indus is always on his mind while in the arms of Tara. Fifteen years go by as Indus sees firsthand how land reform, universal health care, public education and capitalism are used to depress religion. In time, Pasang retruns to find Indus owner of a restaurant and mother of a teenager he learns is his.