English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in 1930s New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers' deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide. Then he encounters the famous and controversial American anthropologist Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband, Fen, who have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo. Nell and Fen and, in spite of Nell's poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone's control.