On the eve of her departure from Boston to find the bones of the walking whale - the fossil that provides a missing link in our evolution - Zubaida Haque falls in love with Elijah Strong, a man she meets in a darkened concert hall. The two immediately connect despite their differences: Elijah belongs to a prototypical American family, whereas Zubaida is the adopted daughter of a wealthy family in Dhaka. But when a twist of fate sends her back to her hometown, the inevitable force of society compels her to take a very different path, and before she knows it she's married to her childhood best friend and discontentedly settled into a traditional Bangladeshi life. In a final bid to escape familial constraints, she moves to Chittagong to help make a documentary film about the infamous shipbreaking beaches, where ships are destroyed and their various parts put up for sale. Here she meets Anwar, a shipbreaker whose story holds a key that unlocks for Zubaida not only the mysteries of her past but the possibilities of a new life - and she will make a choice from which she can never turn back.